Film Room: Eli Manning
by Cian Fahey
317 completions. 551 attempts. 57.5 percent completion percentage. 18 touchdowns. 27 interceptions. 39 sacks. Seven fumbles.
Those are the numbers that are being used to judge New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Those are the numbers that some would use to condemn him as one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. That kind of inefficient production at 33 years of age creates a simple equation: Age + Poor Production = Decline.
It's the kind of logic that is easy and the kind of logic that would have passed for quality analysis roughly 10 years ago.
In the analytical age, those numbers are antiquated. No longer are people relying solely on raw stats to judge a player's ability and impact on the field. The rise of the independent Internet website or blog has created numbers that look at the game in greater detail and give us a better idea of what is happening on the field.
Over a relatively short period of time, analytics have become a crutch for mainstream media outlets to rely on and a tool for NFL teams to use when building their rosters.
Because analytics come in number form and are closely related to mathematics, where everything is decisive and definite, too often we treat all of the advanced numbers as definitive statements about the subject. Anyone who ever analyzes football, no matter what method they choose, must understand the importance of context.
Context for analyzing any quarterback is important. When that quarterback is Manning in 2013, its importance becomes much greater. The reason for this is the scheme Manning played in and the supporting cast he played with.
There are 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL, but there are not 32 quarterbacks with the same responsibilities. Significant differences exist between what each quarterback does on the field regularly.
For example, Alex Smith was primarily asked to take care of the football and complement a strong running game with safe passes for the Kansas City Chiefs last year. The Chiefs could do this successfully because of the creativity of Andy Reid's offense. In comparison, Nick Foles played in an offense in Philadelphia that maximized his strengths and masked his weaknesses. He played in a scheme that slowed the pass rush and gave him wide-open throwing windows on a regular basis.
In New York, Manning was asked to consistently make difficult throws down the field while under pressure in the pocket.
Kevin Gilbride was the New York Giants' offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2013. Gilbride's offense was built on running the football and aggressively pursuing big plays down the field in the passing game. As the above chart reflects, a chart that tracks Manning's first eight games from last season, this meant that Manning was more regularly throwing the ball further than 5 yards down the field.
When you compare that ratio to other starting quarterbacks in the NFL over a similar period, a huge contrast can be seen.
Like the stats that are listed at the start of this article, Gilbride's offensive philosophy is antiquated.
NFL teams nowadays are investing in talented defensive backs and disruptive pass rushers to prevent big plays in the passing game. In Gilbride's offense, the quarterback is forced to hold onto the ball longer as slow-developing routes are executed down the field. Slow-developing routes are useful at times, but constantly relying on them allows instinctive defensive backs time to sit back and read the play before attacking the ball in the air.
As such, turnovers become inevitable.
This play is a great example of the lack of creativity in Gilbride's offense. The three receivers that run routes down the field all begin the play running in straight lines for at least 10 yards. During this time none of them look back for the football and they are easily covered by the defensive backs in their area. Without any crossing motions or quick turns, Manning is forced to hold onto the football in the pocket.
As Manning does this, his pass protection begins to fail and he is forced to move off his spot before finding his checkdown underneath.
If you are forced to play the ball in front of NFL defenses today, you won't run an effective offense. However, if you're also so blunt in how you try to get in behind the defense, you become destined to fail because it's easier for the defense to tighten throwing windows and stay assignment-sound. Because the Giants didn't have a dominant defense in 2013, Manning also couldn't afford to check down very often because he was under pressure to prolong drives and score points.
Manning consistently made very impressive throws into tight coverage down the field in 2013. These throws weren't highlighted as positives very often because he also ultimately had turnovers as he attacked very tight throwing windows while throwing under pressure. It simply isn't sustainable for your offense to work or for your quarterback to be efficient when he is being asked to attempt these kinds of throws on a regular basis.
Even Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees would have close to 30 interceptions in this kind of situation.
Take these two plays for example. The degree of difficulty of these plays for the quarterbacks is relatively simple. Both of these teams focus on creating easy offense, and they do this by alleviating the pressure on their pocket passer. The Giants attempted to achieve the same success, but by doing it the hard way. Nothing was easy for Manning. In fact, there were times when it seemed impossible for him to be successful in that scheme, with that talent.
It's important to note that Manning was never benched. The Giants' coaching staff recognized that he wasn't the problem during the year, then the front office backed that up by replacing Gilbride with Ben McAdoo after the season.
McAdoo was the quarterbacks coach of the Green Bay Packers last year. It's not a coincidence that he is coming from an offense that works under a dramatically different philosophy than what Gilbride installed in New York. Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers have always excelled at taking the underneath yards against defenses to draw them forward, before taking shots down the field with their talented quarterback.
By picking and choosing when to attack the secondary deep, the offense remained efficient and the quality of their deep throws was much greater.
When you align Manning's pass chart for the first half of last season against Rodgers', you can clearly see where each offense concentrated the bulk of their attempts.
An important thing to note is that many of Manning's throws that went less than five yards were similar to the one that was previously detailed in this article: throws that saw Manning check the ball down as a last resort when he couldn't find receivers down the field. On the other hand, most of Rodgers' underneath throws were designed screens, quick throws to uncovered receivers in the flat, and well-designed route combinations that quickly set receivers free within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
By hiring McAdoo, the Giants set about installing an offense with more West Coast principles. If the quality of the supporting cast is there, this should take a huge amount of pressure off of the quarterback position.
The quarterback is the only player on the field who is directly connected to every single one of his teammates. Because of that, the supporting cast for a quarterback has a greater bearing on his production than it does on any other player.
In 2013, Manning's supporting cast was very poor.
A key player in that offense was wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. Nicks is a proven talent who had an established relationship with Manning, but he struggled to perform in 2013. Injuries and effort were a question mark, while he definitely dropped too many passes. Nicks left in free agency to join the Indianapolis Colts, and how the Giants replaced him highlighted the altered philosophy on the offensive side of the ball.
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The Giants didn't just select Odell Beckham, Jr., in the first round of the NFL draft, they picked him with the 12th overall pick.
If Gilbride was still running the offense, there is no chance that Beckham would have been worth that investment to the Giants. That's not to say Beckham couldn't have been effective in that system, but rather that the system wouldn't have used enough of the 21-year-old's versatility. In Nicks, the Giants had the perfect style of receiver for Gilbride's offense. He was tall, athletic, and understood how to get open down the field. He wasn't exceptionally dynamic with the ball in his hands, but he didn't need to be. Beckham isn't like Nicks. Physically he is smaller, but more importantly, he can beat the defense at every level. He has the speed and vision to be elusive underneath with the ball in his hands and the precision in his routes with the ball skills to make contested catches down the field.
By pairing Beckham with Victor Cruz, the Giants have given their quarterback two receivers who can make the offense effective without asking him to throw the ball down the field. The only other question is whether they have the pieces to keep the pressure off of him in the pocket.
Simply by letting Manning release the ball more quickly this year, the Giants should take the pressure off of their offensive line. A renewed sense of urgency in the running game would also go a long way to slowing the pass rush down though. Last year, the Giants ranked 30th in rushing DVOA. With Andre Brown, Peyton Hillis, and Brandon Jacobs as the team's leading rushers, that should have come as no surprise. Investing a fourth-round pick in Andre Williams and signing Rashad Jennings in free agency should at least allow the Giants' running game to keep the unit balanced this year.
If everyone is healthy, the Giants should have enough firepower at the skill positions to effectively execute McAdoo's offense around Manning. The biggest question marks remain on the offensive line.
Veterans Chris Snee and David Diehl are retired. Both are name-recognition players because of the team's past Super Bowl runs, but neither were impressive starters in recent years. Both starters at offensive tackle—William Beatty and Justin Pugh—will return. Neither are special players, but both are good enough starters to adequately complement Manning's ability in the pocket in a quick-passing offense. All the question marks exist on the interior.
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Geoff Schwartz was signed in free agency to be a starter at left guard. Schwartz appears to be the only guaranteed starter, but Brandon Mosley is expected to start at right guard if he plays well during the remainder of the preseason. At center, veteran J.D. Walton was signed as a free agent to be an insurance starter, but ideally second-round pick Weston Richburg would be the Week 1 starter. Tom Coughlin seemingly prefers that rookies sit, but the relative talent on his roster could force his hand.
The Giants just need their offensive line to avoid the kind of displays that saw their quarterback get sacked on six of his first nine dropbacks against the Carolina Panthers last season. That was only one of many bad stretches during a year that saw Manning set a career-high with 39 sacks in a single season.
Manning's numbers have never been very good during the regular season. He has never thrown fewer than 10 interceptions in a 16-game season and on six occasions he has thrown at least 16 interceptions. Only three times has he crossed the 4,000-yard barrier, despite not missing a start over the past nine seasons. His completion percentage has been lower than 60 percent more often than it has been above 60 percent.
In this new scheme, with this new supporting cast, Manning is still unlikely to be one of the most productive players in the NFL, but he also shouldn't touch the depths of despair he reached last season.
39 comments, Last at 24 Aug 2014, 3:05pm
#2 by commissionerleaf // Aug 21, 2014 - 5:01pm
I really appreciate this article because I always had the impression that Manning's numbers were a product of his system rather than a lack of talent. The guy has made more good passes that are picked off than anyone else in the NFL over the past ten years, I think.
I'd like to see Flacco's charts; he often gets talked about as if his statistics are subject to the same issues as Manning's, but watching him play he doesn't appear to be even remotely as good as Eli is.
#4 by theslothook // Aug 21, 2014 - 5:16pm
Not that I disagree with anything Cian wrote, but I have to wonder if it really is all explained by the offense's design. Gilbride has been Eli's offensive coordinator since he was drafted and while it's unimaginative, this was still Eli's worst season by dvoa since his rookie year. Since 07(curiously the year he won the sb), he's always posted a positive dvoa until last year.
#6 by mehllageman56 // Aug 21, 2014 - 8:57pm
While I don't totally disagree with Cian's disapproval of Gilbride's system, the guy does have two Super Bowl rings with the Giants. Also, their offense seemed pretty solid in 2008, until Plexiglas found out his leg was flesh and not unbreakable glass. Not sure how the Giants' situation will work out much better in the new system, since they've been horrible in preseason and Beckham hasn't played a snap yet, and won't play tomorrow either.
I don't think Eli is done, I just think the Giants didn't set him up for success this year either.
#8 by JasonK // Aug 21, 2014 - 10:31pm
Yeah, the criticism of Gilbride was a bit much. There haven't been many fundamental changes in how NFL defenses work over the past few years that would make the system "antiquated." It works when you've got the players-- the Giants were top-10 in points scored and top-12 in offensive DVOA every year from 2008-2012.
The Gilbride offense (or, perhaps more accurately, the Coughlin-Gilbride offense) depends on having a reasonably decent OL, competent blocking from the backs and TEs when necessary, and an X receiver who can win consistently when opponents don't give the CB any help. The Giants had none of the above in 2013.
#7 by bubqr // Aug 21, 2014 - 10:15pm
I knew Eli was getting more INTs partially because of the amount of downfield passing he is expected to do, but he always had some wild, randomly inaccurate passes at times that contrast with the pinpoint 40 yards passes he is able to throw.
Also, Eli, Hall of Famer?
#9 by dmstorm22 // Aug 21, 2014 - 11:01pm
To me it really comes down to how much you value 8 games (or more sinisterly, 4 games, since he wasn't that special in the '07 run).
His numbers are so far away from HOF worthy. Just by numbers, and honestly year-to-year wins and consistency, he's the 3rd best QB in his draft class, and even if you discount Manning and Brady from his 'era', his behind Ben, Rivers, Rodgers, Brees (and with numbrs you can make the case for Romo as well).
But those 8 games happened.
I think he'll get in even if he doesn't deserve it. No QB in the modern passing era should ever be a HOF-qb with the amount of seasons with a sub-80 passer rating as Eli (especially a sub-70 last season), no matter how flawed that stat may be.
#10 by PaddyPat // Aug 21, 2014 - 11:09pm
I would be stunned if he got in. I don't think the Super Bowls are weighted THAT much. Rodgers, Brees from this class get in, and most likely Roethlisberger, though he probably waits a while. That's all I can see from that rough "class". Rivers would have a shot with a late career burst, but he would probably need a league MVP or a fantastic Super Bowl win to give him a legitimate chance.
#11 by dmstorm22 // Aug 21, 2014 - 11:23pm
I hope you're right, but I feel in some ways the people voting for HOF have become more stupid over time in weighing things like QB Winzzz.
This is the same sports media that asked legitimately if he was better than Peyton after SB XLVI. They might be blinded by '07 and '11.
#12 by RavenPl // Aug 22, 2014 - 12:52am
Give me a break. Ben is not a lock in any way. He's never even won the SBMVP. His 1st SB was one of the worst performances by a QB ever. His 2nd Santonio Holmes got the MVP. Third he threw 2 putrid interceptions and was outclassed by Rodgers. Eli beat an undefeated team. He drove down for the win with a TD when only a TD would do. SB 46 was again against the Pats and it was an incredible chess match between the top two QBs that year. His throw to Manningham at that point in the game was extraordinary. You haters are hilarious. Eli has his warts but to say Ben is definitely in when Eli has played iconic games on the biggest stages and come away with the SBMVP trophy both times while Ben has zero is laughable. It's not all about SBs, but c'mon.
#17 by PaddyPat // Aug 22, 2014 - 11:28am
I'm not sure anyone said Ben was a lock; I just suggested he was a more likely candidate than Eli. There are many issues with your argument, but among them, first, the 2011 season Super Bowl was hardly a match between the top two quarterbacks; that would have been a battle between Brees and Rodgers. Eli Manning has never been consistently been among the top 10 quarterbacks in the game. He has ranked 9th in DVOA a few times. Ben Roethlisberger has had an impressive career; he has ranked 2nd in the league in DVOA twice, and top 3 at least 3 times. He has led teams that made it to the Super Bowl 3 times and quarterbacked offenses that were often among the top 10 in the League. Eli Manning has a career interception rate comparable to Jake Delhomme. If it weren't for the two Super Bowl runs, Eli would be seen in the same camp as players like Drew Bledsoe. Do 8 games so define a career as to wipe away all else? How about Eli's 2005 playoff fiasco? I mean, we can't extrapolate from terrible playoff games because you only get 1 crack at it, but what's the sample size in evaluating this thing? How much does it really reflect on the player rather than on the vagaries of messed up luck?
#18 by dmstorm22 // Aug 22, 2014 - 11:34am
Also, Ben's 2005 playoff performance is so obscured by the Super Bowl. Yes, he played badly in Super Bowl XL, he also played really, really well in the first three games, all on the road, against three pretty good to very good teams.
#28 by theslothook // Aug 22, 2014 - 4:54pm
Exactly. The whole postseason performance seems to be tied into, did he win the sb? There have been many qbs who had excellent postseason runs but were not really remembered. Warner's 08, Manning's 09, Manning's 2013, Kaep 2012, etc.
To that point, I use to be against Ben as a hall of famer, till I realized I was putting him against an impossible standard. His career will always look weak in the face of his competition, but his competition has featured at least 2 of the top 10 greatest qbs of all time(in my top 5) and another whos probably top 15.
#21 by AndrewB // Aug 22, 2014 - 2:48pm
Roethlisberger... "quarterbacked offenses that were often among the top 10 in the League."
Under Roethlisberger, the Steelers offense has finished in the top 10 in scoring twice in ten seasons. They were ninth in both 2005 and 2007. The last season the Steelers won the Super Bowl, in 2008, they finished 20th in scoring and 19th in points-per-drive. They were in the bottom half of the league in scoring three times- 20th in 2008, 21st in 2011, and 22d in 2012.
Under Manning, the Giants offense has finished in the top 10 in scoring six times- ninth in 2011, eighth in 2009, seventh in 2010, sixth in 2012, and third in both 2005 and 2008. They were in the bottom half of the league in scoring once- 28th in 2013.
Both Roethlisberger and Manning have had their offenses in the top 10 in points-per-drive four times. The Steelers ranked as high as fifth in 2007 and the Giants as high as third in 2012.
#23 by PaddyPat // Aug 22, 2014 - 3:00pm
I was referring to DVOA, which makes sense on this site, don't you think? Roethlisberger has been a consistently far more efficient quarterback throughout his career than Manning. Admittedly, his offense was less pass prolific in his early years than some of Eli's have been, but that has evolved in his later years. Moreover, his ability to move around and extend plays has been a signature part of the NFL viewing experience throughout this era, and he is the best at it (that's the kind of argument HOF voters will be mulling). You could say that he's sort of an improved Steve McNair, and perhaps a segue to Andrew Luck and the big-guy mobile model of the future. By contrast, what's signature about Manning? He had a nice run with all those Cruz plays in 2011, but lots of guys throw a better deep ball.
#25 by David C // Aug 22, 2014 - 4:42pm
Brees, P.Manning, and Brady should all end up as first ballot candidates. Rodgers and Ryan have a good shot at doing so as well, depending on their future career. Rivers, Romo, E.Manning, and Roethlisberger are probably all one MVP title away from securing their place. Rivers has, I think, the best chance to get in; Manning probably has the worst. Roethlisberger has the best chance if their careers all ended today. Rivers is basically in the same spot where Brees was prior to his 2011 season. Nobody realizes how good he is because he hasn't been the best in the league for an entire season yet.
#27 by theslothook // Aug 22, 2014 - 4:52pm
I think ben is a lock and will likely be first ballot hall of famer. His stats are respectable, the narrative is strong for him, and his playoff games are memorable enough that he will be a shoo in. I think eli will get in too, but he probably needs 1 or 2 really good seasons from cementing it.
Rivers needs at least 2 mvps or a sb before he's in and even that might not be enough. Playing in SD, limited playoff success, and accomplishment's that are retroactively compared to his peers are all things working against.
The saddest thing is - Rivers to me was the best of the three. He's the most consistently excellent and will probably not be remembered at all in 10 years. I still wonder sometimes if Rivers wasn't the better qb compared to Brees, but that's a whole different can of worms.
#16 by nat // Aug 22, 2014 - 8:59am
If there were such a thing as a Playoff-Only Hall of Fame, Eli would get in without a blink of an eye.
He's played enough playoff games to be considered.
He's played well enough to be one of the top performing playoff QBs.
His outstanding play has translated into great playoff success for his team.
As the most important games of any career, the playoffs do, and should, get factored into the real HOF decisions. But they aren't the only thing.
I doubt the rest of Eli's career is good enough for his playoffs to matter.
#22 by theslothook // Aug 22, 2014 - 2:50pm
The playoffs are an exercise in small sample size, something even a full 16 game regular season seems to be when judging qbs.
Also, the narrative of those giants runs should really be about the defense. Don't get me wrong, Eli was good and had memorable moments, but it was really the defense that played well in pretty much every game except the packer afc championship game in 07. It's always been the defense that plays way over its head, especially considering how it completely beats down some of the best offenses in the league and dvoa history.
#24 by nat // Aug 22, 2014 - 4:40pm
I was talking about a hypothetical "Playoff-Only" HOF, so complaining about eleven games being a small sample size is a bit off base. It's a longer playoff career than all but 16 QBs in NFL history. And I'd certainly want to consider Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas, both of whom played fewer playoff games.
#26 by theslothook // Aug 22, 2014 - 4:49pm
I was more critiquing the idea itself, which to me seems to be what a good chunk of the panelists do. I disagree with people above, Eli will get in. I don't think he should, but the playoffs, especially the narrative, will be what gets him in. And that's where an introductory course in stats should be a mandatory prereq for hall of fame voting.
#29 by Scott Kacsmar // Aug 22, 2014 - 5:32pm
If Eli continues to have bad seasons the rest of his career, I don't think he gets in. At the very least, he should be a polarizing Lynn Swann-type candidate that takes forever to get in. To me, his inclusion is all based on having some solid years again and finishing with some nice totals (350 TD, 50,000+ yards).
And I like to think on this site we can definitively say Roethlisberger has been better than Eli in their careers. The only edge Eli has is he's more durable by avoiding the big hits. Roethlisberger is somewhat durable in the sense that he doesn't get serious injuries despite his playing style, but those couple of games he tends to miss every year hurt the Steelers.
#30 by theslothook // Aug 22, 2014 - 6:28pm
It's very strange. I thought Eli's 2011 season was one of the finest I'd seen from a qb overall. I thought his o line legitimately stunk and Kilbride was wedded to being balanced even the running game was a disaster. Eli didn't even get to benefit much from utilizing those short routes that had become very much in vogue at that point. That one season was better imo than any of Ben's. The trouble is, eli is inconsistent both across seasons and within season that I can't see any argument for him being better than Ben, or tragically Rivers for that matter.
#31 by Will Allen // Aug 23, 2014 - 12:35am
The last 3 months of that season, Eli was just unbelievably good. With just a good qb in that NFCCG in Candlestick, with Justin Smith treating Dave Diehl like an old mop, the Giants probably lose by at least a couple touchdowns.
#33 by PaddyPat // Aug 23, 2014 - 11:33am
Just want to point out that Kerry Collins was quite similarly great for the close of the 2002 season. I remember being very amused that year, because he seemed to get better after most of his targets were injured. DYAR and DVOA suggest a tidy parallel between Eli's 2011 and Collins' 2002, and there are other similarities on a career level too. Here's a guy who could suddenly play lights out in a big game, think 2000 NFC Championship, and who could completely disappear at other times.
#34 by Will Allen // Aug 23, 2014 - 11:50am
C'mon, let's not get too carried away. That Vikings team may have had the worst defense to ever appear in a playoff game, and was almost certainly the worst defense to appear in a conference championship. The Niners defense was good, and as I said, absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage in that game.
More generally, I agree that Eli's career is fascinating, in that it really drives home the notion that a players career performance is not a static thing, in the manner we tend to assume.
#37 by PaddyPat // Aug 23, 2014 - 2:56pm
I think my point is, I remember the 2002 Giants season well, and thinking at the time that Collins had finally put it all together and was going to grow into his potential. Then, of course, the bottom fell out the next year. But Eli has had similar moments, though more of them, where one imagined that he was finally going to morph into a good player, and then he inevitably lapsed thereafter. He's had several decent seasons and two great playoff stretches mixed together with lots of mediocrity and some outright lousy play. It really kind of makes you wonder how to quantify these things. How does his career look next to Rich Gannon, for example? Or, what if we compared him to Donovan McNabb, another interesting quarterback who no one seems to be considering for the HOF. What about Steve McNair for the matter of that? One could make the case that all three of those guys were better players than Eli.
#15 by Will Allen // Aug 22, 2014 - 8:03am
I don't strongly disagree with anything written, but if you are going to say that Gilbride's offense is predicated on running the ball and going vertical, you may want to note that an offense which, due to the amount of talent on the o-line and in the backfield, is actually "get continually stuffed at the line of scrimmage and going vertical" is going to be problematic.
The number of qbs who can be productive while his offensive line is just getting its *ss whippped every time it run blocks, with the qb throwing that many deep passes, may be zero.
#19 by AndrewB // Aug 22, 2014 - 12:16pm
Was Kevin Gilbride's offense "antiquated" when the Giants scored 429 points (6th over all)- 408 by the offense- and averaged 2.31 points-per-drive (3d over all) just two seasons ago?
It was actually better than that. If you remove the six drives that ended with Manning taking a knee at the end of a win, the three possessions led by his backup, David Carr, (one of which led to a field goal against Carolina in week-2) and the 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Saints in week-14, which the league, for bookkeeping purposes, counts as a possession, the Giants, when Manning was on the field and they were trying to score, averaged the most points-per-drive in the NFC in 2012. Only the Patriots had a better offense than the Giants did that season.
Last year the Giants used ten offensive linemen and started eight in seven different combinations. They also started six different running backs and two fullbacks.
Players are much more important than schemes. Those injuries, and the rather indifferent play of Hakeem Nicks, were the primary reasons for the decline of the Giants offense last season. It had nothing to do with Kevin Gilbride.
#39 by Ferguson1015 // Aug 24, 2014 - 3:05pm
If you changed the names to the Charger equivalent and the year to 2012, this would be strikingly similar to the exaggerated demise of the play of Phillip Rivers. 7 step drops with no Offensive Line and poor supporting cast is a recipe for poor quarterback play.