That headline may not be entirely fair. New York Giants' quarterback Eli Manning has not really played like a turkey this season. At times, Manning has been brilliant. Eli, though, has been at the center of many of the inopportune mistakes that have plagued the 6-4 Giants this season -- whether or not they are his fault.
Right now, though, the Giants need the mistakes to stop. They have lost two straight games and sit at 6-4, outside the NFC East playoff picture looking in. They are in danger of a second-half of the season collapse for the second straight season, having gone from 5-0 last to 8-8 overall and out of the playoffs. This season, a five-game winning streak that left them 6-2 and had fans thinking Super Bowl feels like a distant memory.
The Giants' offense is decimated. Two Pro Bowl linemen, center Shaun O'Hara and left tackle David Diehl, have been out for weeks and no one knows when they will be back. Both starting wide receivers are out. They have a converted tight end playing fullback for the first time. They have several other players missing, forcing them to go out and pick up a pair of free-agent wide receivers the past two weeks (Derek Hagan and Michael Clayton) who will each play significant snaps Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
They still have their highly-regarded defense mostly intact, however. They also still have Manning, their Super-Bowl MVP, $100-million quarterback who is without question the most important player the franchise has. After the disaster of 2009 and with things on the verge of falling down around him again in 2010, it is time for Manning to step to the forefront. If this Giants team is going to make it to the playoffs Manning will have to put the weakened group around him on his shoulders and take them there. No one else around him can. Basically, it is time for Manning to be, well, a Manning.
ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk was right on target in discussing Manning and the Giants earlier this week. Since I am trying to say almost exactly the same thing, I am going to cheat a little and let Ohm do some of the work for me. Here is what he wrote:
" ... all hope is not lost. ... That's because the Giants haven't suffered the one injury that would truly end their season. Manning might be throwing too many interceptions and diving when he should be sliding, but he's still healthy -- and as long as the franchise quarterback is standing in that pocket, the Giants' season continues to breathe, no matter who is blocking in front of him and who is catching his passes.
Nobody will blame Manning if the Giants fail to make the playoffs, considering he is working without his two best receivers and behind an offensive line that has been plagued by injuries all year.
But this is an opportunity for Manning to show that he truly is one of the NFL's great quarterbacks. Nearly three seasons removed from his Super Bowl-winning drive, Manning is in his prime and should be capable of carrying a team.
He will have to make everyone around him better, like his brother has done so deftly this season.
Can he do that? At times, you see that he can. There are stretches -- sometimes full games, sometimes parts of games -- where Manning is absolutely brilliant. Everything is on target, the offense is crisp, the Giants always seem one step ahead of the defense thanks to Eli's maneuvering and they move the ball up and down the field seemingly at will.
Then there are those "other" times. The times that make Giants fans go crazy with rage, and that give some writers the opportunity to say that Eli might not even be the best quarterback in his own city. Those are the times when a quarterback in his seventh year in the league can't get plays off in time because he's too busy moving chess pieces, when he makes mystifyingly bad decisions like throwing passes left-handed into triple coverage, when he forgets to slide while running and winds up committing "unforced" fumbles, times when the very unwelcome "Eli face," including slumped shoulders, frown, downcast eyes and all that, still shows up.
|2010 - Eli Manning||10||88.4||231||352||65.6||2595||259.5||7.4||21||16||23||49||4.9||2.1||0||12||82|
Manning's numbers this season are a study in contradiction. There are all the great ones.
- He has thrown 21 touchdown passes, putting him on pace for 34. That would obliterate his previous career high of 27, set last season when he went to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
- He is completing a career-best 65.6 percent of his passes, and averaging a career-high 259.5 yards per game.
- He is on pace for 4,152 yards passing -- which would better the career high of 4,021 yards he reached last season.
Then, there are those "other" numbers.
- The 16 interceptions. That pace would give him 26 for the season, way more than the career-worst 20 he tossed in 2007. And way more than a quarterback of his caliber should have right now, even if many of them have not been his fault (and many have not been).
- The 88.4 quarterback rating. It's an awful measuring stick, sure, but it is one that we have. The number is down from the career-best 93.4 he had a season ago and places him 18th in the league, just ahead of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kevin Kolb and Jay Cutler and miles behind Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady.
Manning is aware of the uneven nature of his play this season, as well as that of many of his offensive teammates.
"You have to be smarter. I don't think there is one thing that you say, "Oh, we just have to do this and it'll eliminate it." It's about just being conscious about it and being smart. We still have to compete, and we still have to go out there and play hard. You're going to have to make some throws that are tight but you don't have to force things that aren't there and you have no shot," Manning said. "You just have to go out there and keep competing. I'm not scared of throwing interceptions. Like I said, I don't feel like I'm forcing balls into the wrong place. Again, being smarter on some of them, but for the most part, you have to keep competing and you have to keep going out there trying to make plays, make throws, and that's all I can worry about."
Whatever Manning says about how to fix the turnovers, he has to find a way. The Giants need the "Elite Eli" to show up for the next six games. If "Egghead Eli" shows up the Giants' season is toast.