Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

Ty Schalter writes an article that politely points out what I've been saying for over a decade: Eli Manning is not, and never really was, a top quarterback. But that there is still value in that. We already knew that, of course, but folks like us tend to get drowned out by the "two rings" crowds and/or the shouting from over-the-top NY media rags. So it's nice to see an even-handed and not overly perjorative article about it.

View Full Article


59 comments, Last at 29 Sep 2017, 5:38pm

2 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

Fine article. But other than acknowledging the Super Bowls, it fails to deal with the elephant in the room: Eli Manning has been strangely effective in the playoffs.

Yes, yes, small samples, only two good playoff seasons, I know. But with over 400 playoff attempts over 12 games, his playoff passer rating is better in the playoffs than it is in the regular season. He's basically on par with his brother, without the indoor games to help his stats, and with a much better winning percentage.

Eli Manning is not a top quarterback. But he's been a very, very good playoff quarterback.

To rephrase the title: Eli Manning is a Profoundly Mediocre Regular Season Quarterback......and something different in the playoffs.

9 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

When comparing Eli's playoff stats with his regular season stats, consider this:

Let's suppose we model Eli's QB performance level as a random walk with a good deal of local stickiness, so he's not wandering from a low level of play to a high level and back with a high probability. In the regular season, Eli has to play the same number of games regardless of the position of his QB performance variable.

In the playoffs, if he's playing well, he gets to play more games. If he's playing poorly, he's out.

With that in mind, his average level of play in the playoffs should be higher than it would be in the regular season, under some reasonable models of this random walk that I don't want to bother to think up.

Mind you, I'm talking about defense-adjusted stats here, which would dispense with the objection "but he plays better defenses in the playoffs!"

Consider his career stats with this in mind. His level of play wasn't really respectable until the 2007 playoffs. After that Super Bowl run, he played at a higher level for five years, had a poor season in 2013, and two more decent years in 2014 and 2015.

Then look at his playoff stats. 8 of his 12 playoff games are in the two Super Bowl runs. His QB ratings in the other four games are 35.0, 85.6, 40.7, and 72.1. Two middling games and two poor games. In only one of those four games was his Passer rating higher in the playoff game than it was during the respective regular season. OTOH, his passing rating was much higher in the two Super Bowl runs. So the four 1-and-done seasons combined weigh only as much as one of the two Super Bowl runs.

What I'm saying here is there are selection issues at play here. Pretty much all of the "better playoff QB" comes down to two streaks of very high level play.

17 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

Eli ranks 20th in playoff passing DVOA (14.3%) going back to 1986. http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2017/postseason-qb-drive-stats-and-dvoa

The seasons he didn't go on a SB run count too, and that's going to bring his stats down a lot. The fact that the Giants contained so many epic offenses in those runs is the real remarkable thing, especially after modest regular seasons. At least Eli was very good in the 2011 regular season too. Basically kept it up during the playoffs that year.

21 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

Ranking playoff QB DVOA will always be problematic because of unevenly applied weather effects, which are much stronger in the playoffs than in the regular season. E Manning played more than half of his playoff games in outdoor, northern stadiums. His brother while with the Colts, for example, played 3/19 playoff games in such conditions.

A note from a previous discussion, that bears repeating here:
Football Freakonomics showed a drop in pass completion % of about 4-5% from September to December in outdoor stadiums of all climate types. You'd expect a larger drop than that for those outdoor stadiums in harsher climates.

In short, playing in bad/cold weather hurts your passing stats in a big way.

Eli ranks much higher when compared to QBs facing similar % of outdoor/northern playoff games. (And not just because there are fewer of them. He's higher relative to the size of the list, too.)

Playoff DVOA isn't entirely meaningless for this kind of thing. But it needs to be used with much more care than this. Naively ranking QBs by playoff DVOA simply leads to liking QBs who play a lot of indoor/nice weather playoff games over those who play a lot of outdoor/cold/bad weather ones.

45 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

I guess it was super cold in the 2007 NFC-CG and rainy in the 2011 NFC-CG, but hard to look at Eli's 12 playoff games and think about the weather. 25% of the sample is pristine conditions vs. NE and a game in Tampa Bay. A bigger chunk is days in the 40's and 50's with negligible wind. Aaron Rodgers had no issue with the weather this past January. Field was fine.

3 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

I linked to this article in QR. I expect my Props! I liked the article except for this line "in an era when offensive innovations have made the average NFL quarterback better than Roger Staubach." The average QB is NOT better than Staubach the average QB has better stats than Staubach. Perhaps the author is using hyperbole, but I don't know.

5 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

"The average QB is NOT better than Staubach the average QB has better stats than Staubach."

Would you accept "in an era when [...] the average NFL QB is more efficient than Staubach"? "Better" is a vague and subjective term, but "more efficient" is factual, given a concrete criteria for efficiency.

53 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

Staubach was 2nd all time at the time he retired in 1979 in career passer rating behind only Otto Graham. Your point obviously still remains valid that he was very good when you think of the era he played in https://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/psl_finder.cgi?request=1&match=combined&year_min=1920&year_max=1979&season_start=1&season_end=-1&pos%5B%5D=qb&draft_year_min=1936&draft_year_max=2017&draft_slot_min=1&draft_slot_max=500&draft_pick_in_round=pick_overall&conference=any&draft_pos%5B%5D=qb&draft_pos%5B%5D=rb&draft_pos%5B%5D=wr&draft_pos%5B%5D=te&draft_pos%5B%5D=e&draft_pos%5B%5D=t&draft_pos%5B%5D=g&draft_pos%5B%5D=c&draft_pos%5B%5D=ol&draft_pos%5B%5D=dt&draft_pos%5B%5D=de&draft_pos%5B%5D=dl&draft_pos%5B%5D=ilb&draft_pos%5B%5D=olb&draft_pos%5B%5D=lb&draft_pos%5B%5D=cb&draft_pos%5B%5D=s&draft_pos%5B%5D=db&draft_pos%5B%5D=k&draft_pos%5B%5D=p&c1stat=pass_att&c1comp=gt&c1val=500&c5val=1.0&order_by=pass_rating

52 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

What is also very interesting is how well his career passer rating holds up excluding current players. He is currently 54th all time but 2/3 of the players above him (35 of 53) were active in the league in 2015 (players currently on rosters plus P. Manning, Romo, Kaepernick & RGIII). So before the changes we have seen in the passing game in recent years only 17 players managed a better career passer rating than Staubach from 1979 and on. Six of those 17 are Hall of Famers (Young, Warner, Montana, Marino, Favre & Kelly).

4 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

I suspect that if he had a different surname, there'd be be less belief in him.

That said, Flacco has done very well off of his playoff hot streak.

7 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

As a Lions fan, I'd crawl over my mother's corpse for the kind of "false hope" Eli has provided.

While we all roll our eyes at Herm Edwards and his adage that "You play to win the game," at the same time, realize A's fans couldn't give fewer shits about how much money Billy Beane has made for Stephen Schott, Ken Hofmann, John Fisher, and whatever other tightfisted billionaires he's knelt before. The only thing you get out a fandom is as many championships as you can get before your team's owner slinks out of town under the cover of a Mayflower truck to go bilk some new city and its fans.

If that means backing more Elis and fewer Phil Riverses, then I say unto you Elisha Nelson Manning, "Shalom."

12 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

So what, you denigrate Billy Beane because he is willing to work for owners who don't spend much money? You think being a GM for the Yankees or the Red Sox is the only honorable position or something?

Also, as a Lions fan, you already have your Eli Manning. If your dream is a somewhat above average QB who is almost certainly capable of having a strong playoff run, then Stafford undoubtedly fits the bill. Whether he ever will or not, who knows, but that's simply because the NFL playoffs are very random and hence very unpredictable.

13 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

Also, there is a lot of revisionism about Eli's 2007 playoff run. It was largely built on him accomplishing the great feat of not turning it over for a three-game stretch for like the first time in his career.

He was not all that great against Tampa and Dallas. He was actually quite good in ridiculously cold conditions in Lambeau, so I'll give him that.

The MVP of that Giants run - and to some degree even the 2011 run - was the defense. They played teams that scored 455, 435, 589 points in 2007 and held them to 17, 20 and 14.

Then played teams in 2011 that scored 560, 380, 513 and held them to 20, 17, 17.

Last year was the first time an Eli-led Giants team allowed more than 23 points in a playoff game. That wasn't good enough to get them wins in 2005, 2006 or 2008.

14 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

The 2007 and 2011 are ridiculous because they beat teams that were 13-3, 13-3 and 16-0 in 2007, and teams that were 15-1, 13-3 and 13-3 in 2011.

The only other team to beat three teams 13-3 or better was the 2005 Steelers (14-2 IND, 13-3 DEN & SEA). Of course, that Pittsburgh team probably goes 12-4 or 13-3 if Roethlisberger doesn't get hurt midseason.

These Giants teams were 10-6 and 9-7 (the two worst ever records for SB winners - 10-6 tied with a couple other teams).

18 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

That is kinda the opposite of what I meant. Eli gives other GMs false hope that their mediocre QB is going to win them playoff games. They won't, the defense you suck at building would do it, but you can't, because you keep drafting and overpaying mediocre qbs.

20 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

Since Eli, we've seen Flacco, Peyton Manning's corpse, Wilson, and baby Ben Roethlisberger win titles, and we've seen Matt Hasselbeck, Grossman, Wilson, and Kaepernick lose them. Feel free to add Newton and/or Matt Ryan to that list, depending on how one-off you think their seasons were.

You can absolutely make a super bowl with a mediocre QB, and you have a puncher's chance if you're there. Based on QB play, if anything, the worse QBs have a better record than the better QBs (acknowledging that a bunch of those years are functionally draws).

30 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

I think the point would be at what cost is it not worth it? And mediocre needs qualifiers. To me, the most important degredation is...is your qb a net minus? If the answer is no, you are already better than a third of the league. If you are a slight positive, you are likely in the top half of qbs. That's pretty accomplished already.

37 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

Eli's first win was in 2007. A lot of the QBs you've mentioned were before that ('Baby' Roethlisberger, Hasselbeck, Grossman).

I do agree it hasn't been all 'elite' QBs, but either they've had the best defense in the NFL (Wilson x2, 2015 Manning), or played like an elite QB for four games (Flacco), or was Kaepernick.

41 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

OK, got you.

But even then, Ben 2005 played at an elite level (his performance in the Super Bowl obscures that fact he was great that year), and Grossman had a top defense. Hasselbeck also was really good with a good defense and great run game.

I think overtime it shifted more to you either need the best defense in the NFL, or an elite QB, and a few fall through the cracks (2011 NYG, 2012 SF and BAL).

8 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

I am curious, admittedly as a Pats fan, what the fan experience is like for the NYG and the 2 Super Bowl teams. Outside of 2008, the Giants have never been dominant during the Manning era, and have often struggled to aspire toward mediocrity. In my experience rooting for championship teams, one roots for and enjoys the full narrative of the season with all its twists and turns. What is it like being the happy fan of a team that muddles its way through the season and gets hot at the right time?

11 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

Very difficult to give a proper answer to a question about such a profound topic. Moments after the Giants completed their unfathomable win over the Patriots in the 2007 SB, I sat my then 2-year old son on my lap and told him that if he inherited his old man's football rooting interests, I didn't want him to think that what had just happened was something normal -- that he shouldn't expect to see that kind of miraculous playoff run for the next 75 years at least. And then the Giants did just about the same exact thing 4 years later. I've been rooting for this team since the mid-70s, and let's just say those playoff runs more than compensate for the Joe Pisarcik, Scott Brunner, Dave Brown, and yes, the bad-Eli seasons, and then some. (And that's without mentioning the similarly thrilling 1990 playoff run and the more traditional one in 1986.) Certainly don't need to tell a Patriots fan about the enduring joy of multiple miraculous SB wins.

47 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

Not sure if this comment about privilege was a reaction to my trying to answer what I took to be a good-faith question, but if so I certainly didn't mean to convey any sense of privilege. The opposite, that the Giants have given their fan base arguably the most outsized rewards compared to a "deserved" level -- ie, well-timed overachievement more than consistent quality. I was trying to express that I recognize my good fortune, one I think other Giants fans share, not entitlement.

19 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

I'll give you an example of what being a NYG fan would be like, in a context you might understand.

It's like being a fan of the 2011 Boston Bruins. A 3-seed, but 4th-best team who knocked off the overall #1 seed in the finals in a close series and ruined that team's legacy. It felt pretty good, right? How much patience do you have for Canucks fans sour-grapesing Tim Thomas? Not much, right? Being a Manning Giants fan would be a lot like that.

Being a bandwagon Pats fan has to be a lot like being a Yankees fan, right? Can you ever feel satisfaction in a win? You guys went 18-1 and it tastes like ashes, because 19 wins were expected. Who roots for Goliath? It's like cheering for the house in Vegas.

25 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

I agree. Having rooted for the pre-goliath and goliath Patriots I prefer the current situation. Although at this point rooting for the pats is like loving an older dog. You love the hell out of them but you know deep in your heart that the end is coming. You just keep enjoying the present as hard as you can for as long as you get.

31 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

@ all the comments to PaddyPat. I don't think he was trolling. It was genuine curiosity. Face it, every fan experience is different based on the team you root for. A colts fan experience is different from the browns, Steelers, Giants, vikes etc.

I also get curious how sincere fans of other teams think because I don't have their rooting experience. Sincere Pat fans have a unique feeling. And it's not Celtics level dominance. Their sbs have been close and they've had their share of gut wrenching losses that I think they appreciate how fortunate they have been to win all these sbs. Watch warriors fans the next couple years. I can tell you this year...there was no suspense felt whatsover.

33 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

Ok, if this is going to be engaged in good faith, I'll say this. Rooting for a team which has never had ultimate success puts your interest in the game to the test. If your interest is outcome oriented, you better be rooting for a team that wins it all, if the interest is to be maintained. If somebody is a Lions fan, in contrast, that's somebody who is more likely to have an intrinsic intetest in the nuts and bolts of the game. The best thing about being a Vikings fan? You become immune to ever thinking a positive outcome is assured, before it actually happens, and immune to feeling emotionally distressed by unlikely negative outcome. The Vikings could be up 41-0 at the end of the 2nd quarter, at the Super Bowl, consume gatorade tainted with LSD at halftime, and lose 77-41 when they spent the 2nd half staring at their outstretched hands, and I'd just shrug my shoulders, and go walk the dog.

35 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

Ill be impressed if you are able to keep such a composure when the game feels imminently winnable. That 09 loss for instance must feel particularly bad.

I still have yet to really get over that 09 colts sb loss. I truly felt like it was destiny. Being a colts fan is weird. You've had unprecedented success, but there was always a big brother to steal the highlights and esteem. Its like being the perpetual second child. You absolutely could do a lot worse as a fan, so no griping from me.

36 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

When Favre and Peterson muffed the handoff on the goal line at the end of the 1st half, hole opened for Peterson to stroll through into the end zone, and the Saints recovered,I kinda' expected the final result, so, no, it wasn't too crushing, and that game was sort of the last straw for me, along with the stadium ripoff.I'm not really emotionally invested any longer.

38 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

That loss to the Saints didn't hurt too much at the time. It wasn't as harrowing a loss as PIT in 05, or the SD losses in 07 and 08 (especially 08, where that team was on a roll and could've made noise in a weaker AFC).

But overtime it's begun to hurt way, way more. He ended up winning a 2nd ring, but man did I want Manning to have that 2nd ring in a year he was still in his prime. It answers all the questions. I wouldn't have to sit through 2010, or the loss to Baltimore, or the Super Bowl to Seattle, and hear about how Manning still can't win the big one.

Also, I have a feeling if they do win another Super Bowl, things go differently post-2011. I don't think Irsay cleans house of Polian and Manning if they are 2-time Super Bowl winners, including just two years earlier.

I wanted them to keep Manning then, and given hindsight, it would've been the right call rather than ruin Andrew Luck's career as well.

39 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

The loss to Pitt was horrifying. The loss to SD was annoying because they kept turning it over in the redzone. What could have played right into Indy's hands ended up a tight game where the defense and blocking came apart toward the end. Credit SD though.

I thought the colts made the right decision letting Manning go. The team needed a new philosophy and new leadership(they just chose incredibly remarkably poorly in their new braintrust) and that group was unlikely to be married to Manning and the neck uncertainty. Its just sad they've been so badly mismanaged. I think its sadder still and reflective of ownership that Pagano is still the coach. If by the time Luck is ready to play and all they have is one or two wins - I'd be content to send him to Hawaii in bubble wrap and tank the season. Start fresh again.

42 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

It is criminal that Pagano is still the coach.

How many times does your team have to go down 14-0 early in a game, or have to attempt ridiculous comebacks, or just get blown out, before you realize he is not a good coach.

Other than inspire his team to play decent defense against average teams once every couple months, I have no idea what Pagano does well.

I absolutely think he was a snake and threw Grigson under the bus (not that Grigson didn't have problems) to save his job, and because of Irsay's hesitance the GM situation was resolved too late to really fire Chuck.

If he weasels his way into keeping his job this time because he uses Luck's injury as an excuse I will seriously reconsider any love I still have for the Horseshoe.

My larger issue with the clean-house in 2011 was Irsay seemed to think of it fully as a power move, and while Polian clearly lost a step in player evaluation, his approach was still the right way to go. Having an offense put up 'Star Wars Numbers' is better than Grigson & Pagano's 'run the ball and stop the run' approach.

I'll never get over how much Irsay tried to discredit the Manning era at the start of the Pagano/Grigson regime. As if 10 years of consistent success, 7 straight 12 wins seasons, two AFC Titles and a Super Bowl was not good enough.

49 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

The moment I saw Pagano call that illegal fake punt formation against the Patriots, I knew that the Colts were the only team that would continue employing him - even the Steelers' legendary loyalty would have failed. When I learned that the snapper who'd practiced it wasn't the one who was on the field, I laughed and thought that this must be enough for even Irsay, stoned on more drugs than a rock band, must be aware of the incompetence.

Nope, Pags still coach, Colts still terrible.

34 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

As I rooted for the pre 2001 Pats I was not scholar of the game but it was nice to follow some of my favorite players and enjoy their success even it rarely lead to overall success. I rather enjoyed watching Bledsoe keep shoehorning the ball to Coates then though everyone in the park knew where the ball was going. Tippett, Flutie I enjoyed them. Hanna was really before I was enough of a fan of football to appreciate line play.

43 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

If somebody is a Lions fan, in contrast, that's somebody who is more likely to have an intrinsic intetest in the nuts and bolts of the game.

It's mostly near-suicidal levels of masochism, I think.

The Lions aren't even a good example of the nuts and bolts of the game. They've been a consistently bad franchise since the late 1960s -- Ford, arguably, was worse for his franchise than the Irsays or Modells. Although spectacularly unlucky in the playoffs, the Vikings at least offer the experience of a really good team ever few years. That's more like following the Tigers (No series wins since 1984, but 5 ALCS trips since then).

Lions fandom has taught me to not count unhatched chickens. I might have been the only nervous person outside of New England when Atlanta was up 28-3 late in the 3rd, because that's absolutely a lead the Lions would blow.

44 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

Oh, I didn't mean to suggest that the Lions provided a good example of how the nuts and bolts come together! Just that if you have tuned in the Lions for decades, you have to be really interested in how the game is played, and obviously not primarily drawn to it by the outcomes

48 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

You are right in that for me, it's more about the journey than the destination. One thing being a Lions fan has taught me is too appreciate and enjoy the rare and limited successes they have. I've learned to appreciate and enjoy a playoff appearance with a wildcard loss the way I imagine other teams' fans enjoy a super bowl run.

50 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

I don't know if it was here on FO or somewhere else some years back, but I recall someone asking the question of what team you would have rather been a fan of during the first decade of the 2000s; a team like the Eagles, where you had very consistent success, regular playoff runs, hope every year, but no titles, or the Bucs, where you had a great peak and a championship, but, other than that, the team was largely patently awful.

I'd still choose Bucs just because "the destination" portion of it was phenomenal, but I have to admit, it would be really nice to have looked forward to Sundays instead of turning on my TV with a sense of dread. I mean, you factor in the disintegration of the team starting in 2003, the rise and implosion of Josh Freeman, the Schiano years, Josh McCown . . . ugh.

I guess it's how much variance you like in your sports happiness; huge peak and massive valley, or smaller peak and lower valleys.

57 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

In an attempt to out do Paddy Pat's privilege..

As a long time Indianapolis Colts fan (I was 10 when they came to town and didn't watch the NFL much before they did, so I have no personal experience with the Baltimore team), I'll try to answer this. Pre-Peyton, the Colts were right down there with the Bucs, so being a perennial contender in the 2000's was certainly exciting at first. But (here comes the privilege part) after a while, I found watching games less fun. If the team won, it was more a relief that they did what they were supposed to do then excitement for a win. If they lost, it meant that something was seriously screwed up.

Playoff wins were exciting still, but losses were crushing. Early on, they gave some hope for next year, but after a while, it just became "is this team ever going to get over the hump?" It got to the point were for 4 or 5 seasons it didn't seem like the team was building towards something better, it just plateaued at "almost good enough".

Now, I'm not saying I want to go back to the pre-Peyton years, but Sundays are a little nicer when wins are pleasant surprises and losses aren't end of the world.

56 Re: Eli Manning is Profoundly Mediocre

It's about time someone said it. Eli Manning cried about being drafted by a team he didn't like. Eli is the son and younger brother of two powerful people who used their weight to get this cry baby what he wanted. A Tom Coughlin defense was what helped win 2 rings. That, and a miraculous helmet catch that came seconds after a blatantly missed holding call on the Patriots pass rush. People have been hoisting this clown up on a very undeserved pedestal for way too long. There isn't much difference between eli and say, oh I don't know, Brian Hoyer. Andy Dalton is a better QB than Eli Manning.