As the New York Giants continue to sink deeper and deeper in the standings without seemingly any hope of righting their ship and salvaging what is left to a disappointing, injury-ravaged 2014 season, team co-owner John Mara is going to have a lot of decisions that need to be made in order to restore the franchise’s integrity.
Some of those decisions will be easy, while others—such as what to do with quarterback Eli Manning, the still fresh-faced looking signal-caller who this week, as Tom Rock of Newsday noted, began his second decade as the unquestioned leader of the Giants offense—might not be as cut-and-dried.
The 33-year old Manning has been everything the Giants could ask for in a player, from being a student of the game who is often the first one to arrive for work and the last to leave, to being a two-time Super Bowl MVP.
However, with the Giants struggling under Manning’s leadership—and it does need to be acknowledged that the three-time Pro Bowler hasn’t always had the ideal supporting cast around him, especially over the last two years—one of the biggest questions Mara might end up struggling with is what to do with his team’s quarterback.
Rather, there are some trends that have quietly popped up that might just be starting to signal that the Giants really need to contemplate their starting quarterback situation carefully rather than simply brush it under the rug as a no-brainer.
Is Manning the right man to continue to lead the Giants after this season? Compared to, say, what the New York Jets are going through with their quarterback situation, the Giants can certainly be in a worse state of affairs at the quarterback spot.
However, with Manning entering the final year of his contract next season, a year in which he’s due to count for $19.75 million against the projected $140 million salary cap, according to Over the Cap, the decision might not be as cut-and-dried.
Reason No. 1: Performance Drop-Off
In 2009-2011, Manning was on top of the world, recording three straight 4,000-yard passing seasons in each of those years.
Since then, however, his production hasn’t been quite as potent, with his touchdown and interception numbers being a little too close to one another for comfort.
|Eli Manning's Production: 2012-2014|
Reason No. 2: Fourth-Quarter Comebacks
Once upon a time, Manning was known as the “Fourth-quarter Comeback King,” a man who when the chips were down could load his 10 other teammates on his shoulders and drive them down the field and into the end zone for that thrilling game-winning score.
|Eli Manning's 4th-Quarter Comebacks (By Season)|
|Season||No. Regular-Season Game-Winning Drives|
|Source: NY Giants Press Box Notes|
As the above table notes, over the last three seasons, this year included, Manning has led the Giants on six fourth-quarter game-winning drives, a total that equals what he produced in 2011, the last year he and the Giants won a Super Bowl.
Of course, the other end of the argument is that it would help the Giants a lot if Manning and the Giants offense could at least start fast and maintain that pace throughout the game.
Such has not been the case, as prior to this week’s game against the 49ers, in which the Giants scored on their opening drive, Manning’s offenses had gone 20 consecutive games without scoring on their first possession of the game.
In fact, the Giants have struggled to score in the first quarter of their games, being outscored by opponents 61-28 this season.
Reason No. 3: Offensive Fit
While there is no question that Manning has worked hard to adapt to the West Coast offense, if the Giants are planning to stick with this offensive system, at some point they might want to get a more mobile quarterback to run it.
This would be especially helpful if the Giants plan to continue “building” their offensive line the way they have all these years, by slapping bandages picked up via free agency to plug holes.
The offensive line, as currently constructed, is not an ideal fit for an immobile quarterback like Manning whose strength remains the deep ball and whose biggest weakness is rolling around in the pocket.
Why Manning Is Still the Man
As previously noted, Manning hasn’t been the recipient of an All-Pro offensive line in quite some time. That’s especially true in these last two seasons, where his human wall of protection no doubt received lumps of coal at the end of the year as opposed to some of the nicer gifts that, per Tim Reynolds of the New York Post, a Manning has been known to bestow on his offensive linemen.
The obvious answer all along is to fix the offensive line, a unit whose current depth right now is so depleted—thanks to poor draft decisions made under general manager Jerry Reese’s watch—that there’s something radically wrong when Day 3 picks such as James Brewer and Brandon Mosley can’t get game-day uniforms ahead of free agents such as Dallas Reynolds and Charles Brown.
This year the Giants tried to take a step in that direction. But it wasn’t enough, as they also were apparently hoping to squeeze one more year out of Chris Snee, who ended up retiring, and they have been without Geoff Schwartz, who was their prize free-agent signing on that unit, due to injury.
The other thing the Giants have finally started to do is get Manning viable weapons. A healthy Rashad Jennings is better than what the Giants had last year at the position, and when rookie Andre Williams gets a better grasp on the pro game, the one-two punch at running back is going to be something special.
Meanwhile at receiver, Odell Beckham Jr. has proved to be the real deal—just imagine the nightmares that he and a healthy Victor Cruz might create for opposing defenses.
Regardless if head coach Tom Coughlin returns in 2015—and there’s a 50-50 chance he will right now—it makes too much sense to not have Manning lead the offense moving forward, even despite his drop in his performance.
Football is a team sport. Support him with better talent, especially on the offensive line, and there is no reason to think that Manning won’t get back to performing as he did between 2009-2011.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football and The SportsXchange. All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced. Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.