Eli Manning throws a pass Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. - Rich Schultz
New York Giants' quarterback Eli Manning suffered through his worst game in several seasons on Sunday. What has gone wrong with the Giants' passing attack?
Where has Eli Manning gone? Manning's ugly line in Sunday's 24-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-of-24, 125 yards, one interception, 41.1 passer rating, 14.2 QBR) was the kind of line you might expect from the other starting quarterback in New York, Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets. You would not expect that from a two-time Super Bowl MVP in the prime of his career.
Thing is, this continues what has been a downward trend for Manning during the past month. Here are Manning's numbers for the season.
First five games
Last four games
Yes, the Giants won the first three of those games. The downward spiral of Manning and the Giants' passing attack is, however, a concern.
Tom Rock of Newsday pointed out Monday that Manning's passer rating was his lowest since a 40.7 in a playoff loss to the Eagles in January of 2009. Rock also pointed out that Manning is now 13-18 in November.
So, what gives with Manning and the passing attack?
Part of the problem is that Hakeem Nicks is obviously not 100 percent. Nicks is a great receiver, but the slide in the passing game coincides with his return to the lineup in Week 6 against the San Francisco 49ers after missing three weeks with foot and knee issues.
Nicks had just one catch for 10 yards Sunday against Pittsburgh, and has 13 in four games since returning. He had 14 in the season's first two games. He caught 76 passes for 1,192 yards last season, but right now Nicks just does not seem able to get open. Most of the catches he is making are contested ones.
Nicks' struggles, of course, mean teams can focus their defensive efforts on Victor Cruz, and Cruz has had his own struggles the past couple of weeks. He had five catches Sunday, but there were a couple of missed throws by Manning and a couple of mis-communications between Cruz and the quarterback. Against Dallas a week ago, Cruz caught only two balls.
Part of the problem may also be that, at least for the past three weeks, the Giants have not run the ball with any consistency. Sunday, the Giants ran for only 68 yards on 22 carries (3.1 yards per attempt).
Manning said Sunday that "I don't feel off-rhythm," but something has obviously gone awry in the Giants' passing game.
"We're just not executing as well. Third downs - that's a big part; just not getting firsts. A little off here; just not executing; guys not doing everything perfectly; me missing some throws - so it's just a combination of everything," Manning said. "I don't think there's one thing that saying, "we're just not doing this," and that'll solve all our problems. Everybody working together; everybody playing good football on every situation, and that will lead to points."
Head coach Tom Coughlin is, justifiably, concerned.
"Obviously, there are circumstances where we were very much on the same page, very confident. And that's not the case right now for whatever reason. Last week was not a good game for Victor (Cruz) and we didn't get ourselves open. We put a lot of attention toward that today and we still didn't get a whole lot of daylight," Coughlin said.
"We are not going to stop doing what we do. So we've got to just get going. People have got to play the way they are capable of playing. Look at where our big play production has been. Two weeks ago we were the number one big play team in the league. I mean it doesn't make any sense."
No, watching a quarterback this good and an offense this explosive play this poorly does not make any sense. A promising season to date hinges largely on the Giants' ability to figure out why the passing attack has largely vanished, and get it fixed.