Eli Manning: Here comes the 'elite' or 'not elite' debate again

Eli Manning - Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Eli Manning's poor play of late has once again stirred up the debate over whether or not he is an elite quarterback.

Eli Manning has played poorly in the last four New York Giants' game. You could even say putridly in the last two as the one high-flying Giants have lost two straight to stumble to 6-4, turning the NFC East into a race once again with the Dallas Cowboys.

Manning's inexplicable poor play has been a big part of the reason for the slide. In addition to being a big part of the reason for the Giants' slide, however, Manning's struggles have done something else. They have resuscitated the 'is Manning an elite quarterback' conversation.

Former Giants' quarterback Phil Simms takes the "not elite" stance.

“No, he is not one of the elites,” Simms said in quotes distributed by CBS. “Because when I hear the word elite, I’m thinking about guys that can make unbelievable plays on the field by themselves. There are very few quarterbacks in that category.

“So yes, Eli has been a tremendous team player. He has been MVP of the Super Bowl twice. I know that. But the way I look at it, the answer is no.”

Former San Diego Chargers' quarterback Dan Fouts takes "yes, he is elite" stance.

“You can’t spell elite without Eli,” Fouts said. “The pressure situations that Eli has thrived in over his short career, in my mind, make him an elite quarterback, because that is when you’re judged. How well do you do when the pressure is on, when you’ve got to win the game?

“And all you have to do is look back at his two Super Bowl wins and the way he beat the Patriots. I have to give him a nod and say Eli is elite.”

So, here we go again. Which side are you on? Is Manning an elite quarterback or isn't he?

Let's put aside the fact that Simms might not be the most objective person to comment on Manning. After all, Simms was considered the best Giants' quarterback ever until Manning came along and set about obliterating Simms' name from the Giants' record book. Let's try to have a rational debate.

After two Super Bowl titles, and deserved MVPs, there probably would not be a debate if Eli had not spent the last four game playing more like the Mark Sanchez-Blaine Gabbert-Ryan Fitzpatrick ilk of quarterback instead of the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady-Drew Brees-Aaron Rodgers type of quarterback.

That, though, is exactly what Eli has done.

Manning has no touchdown passes in three games, and has just one touchdown pass as opposed to six interceptions in his last four. He has passer ratings of 78.9, 58.4, 41.1 and 56.0 in those four games.

Those are not elite numbers. Neither is the overall 81.8 passer rating. Or the 82.1 passer rating and 58.7 percent completion rate for his career. Or, even the fact that 3.3 percent of his passes have been intercepted (by comparison, Rodgers has been intercepted on 1.8 percent of his career throws).

Manning, though, has never been about those numbers. His stats will never match his brother's, or those of Brees, Rodgers or Brady.

Manning's play has always been about winning. He has always been there when the Giants needed him most -- leading comebacks, making seemingly impossible throws, shooting down quarterbacks and teams that seemed to have better resumes to lead his team, twice getting the Giants Super Bowl titles.

The current problem for the Giants is that if Manning keeps playing like Sanchez-Gabbert-Fitzpatrick instead of Brady-Rodgers-Breen-Peyton Manning the Giants will have no chance. Whether you think he is elite or not (and I do) he is the most important Giant, and right now he is in some sort of deep, incomprehensible funk.

You can't use the word "slump" around Manning or coach Tom Coughlin -- they will shoot that down.

You can't pin it on a "dead arm." That is a baseball term, and the team will deny that one, too.

So, what is going on with Eli? Why can't he throw the ball straight anymore? Why does he keep throwing it to the wrong team? Why is a guy with his pedigree suddenly making decisions his head coach is calling "terrible" and "foolish?"

Let's face facts with Eli. He will always make some foolish throws. He will never be pretty. His stats will never match some of those guys about whom there is never an argument over whether or not they are elite. There is more gunslinger, a la Brett Favre, in him than there is Joe Montana or Aaron Rodgers-esque precision. Manning's career interception percentage of 3.3, in fact, matches Favre's.

During his 25-interception 2010 season Manning often made ill-advised or forced throws, trying to make things happen when things were going poorly and when, in truth, there was no play to be made. We have seen some of that the past two games.

Manning, as his coach said Monday, seems to be pressing. Receivers are not getting open. The Giants are not running the ball effectively. The pass-blocking his broken down the past couple of weeks. The Giants' offense is, for the most part, broken.

There is no doubt in mind that the Giants have an elite quarterback with whom to begin piecing that offense back together. Even if the elite quarterback has been a big part of the problem the past few weeks.

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