For media pundits and fans, opinions and battle lines regarding Eli Manning have long been formed. In many ways, it’s strange to see a class act, two-time Super Bowl MVP, and holder of just about every significant passing record in team history be such a divisive topic. Perhaps that says more about us than Eli.
Quarterbacks for every team are always fan lightning rods. But the contempt for Eli seems over the top, including with “overrated” player polls which seem more than a tad disingenuous since Eli has never been regarded all that highly by most players, media types, and fans of other teams.
Manning’s best season was his League MVP-worthy performance of 2011. By the conclusion of that season, at the age of 31, in his first eight years, Manning had won two Super Bowls, was responsible for 25 game-winning drives, and sported 8-3 playoff and 69-50 regular-season records. After that, in his next seven seasons, while there were 17 more game-winning drives, Manning only played in one more playoff game and saw his regular-season record plummet to 47-64. Manning’s team have only won two more games than they have lost (116-114) and have been to the playoffs six times, losing the first playoff game on four of those occasions.
With those facts in mind, the genesis of Eli debate becomes clear. If you take away the Super Bowl seasons of 2007 and 2011, outside his longevity, Manning’s career looks like the epitome of mediocrity. But – and it’s a BIG but (cue the Pee Wee Herman joke here) – you can’t take away the 2007 and 2011 seasons. Manning played his best football during those two historic, against-all-odds, 4-0 each playoff runs. He is responsible for one quarter of the team’s NFL Championships. This alone makes his career a success.
My personal view is that the New York Giants as a franchise ruined the second half of Manning’s career. Manning was probably never going to duplicate his career season of 2011, but he should not be a 47-64 quarterback either. For most of the last seven years, the Giants have “surrounded” Eli with terrible offensive lines, no running game, shoddy defense, and abysmal special teams. The beatings Manning has taken have taken their toll. He’s not the guy he was in 2011. The same thing happened to Ron Jaworski, Neil Lomax, and others. Once you permanently lose faith in your offensive line, you become a different player.
2018 was an odd year for Eli. At times, he looked done. At other times, he was the master of efficiency. Six times he had a QB rating over 100. He completed a career-high 66 percent of his passes. He only threw 11 interceptions. But even with Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, the offense was abysmal for much of the season. Manning threw only 21 touchdowns and the team finished the year 5-11. If a play broke down, Manning could not improvise. He was sacked a career-high 47 times (an average of three times per game).
One of Phil Simms’ best years was his final one in 1993, when the Giants surprisingly finished 11-5. Simms didn’t throw a lot of touchdowns (only 15), but he was incredibly efficient quarterback on a solid football team. My sense is that Eli Manning could still be a winning and sometimes masterful QB if his surrounding team were stronger, but that simply has not been the case. Too many times, the offensive line or defense have collapsed. Too many times the ground game couldn’t gain that one yard. Now he is 38 years old. It’s a shame.
THE 15-YEAR CONSTANT
In the twilight stage of his career, the 38-year old Eli Manning completed his 15th season in 2018. The entire offense, including Manning, played much better in the second half of the year when the offensive line played better. Overall, Manning finished with 4,299 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He completed a career-high 66 percent of his passes. However, the passing attack was inconsistent. There were stretches and games where Manning and the passing game were efficient and sharp, and others where they struggled to move the chains and put points up on the board. Manning was the first player selected in the 2004 NFL Draft and immediately traded to the Giants by the Chargers. Manning owns practically every quarterback record in franchise history. He is 8-4 as a playoff quarterback and a two-time Super Bowl MVP. His best season was 2011 when he carried the Giants to the playoffs, highlighted by eight come-from-behind victories. Since then, he has struggled with consistency as the franchise has been unable to provide him with an adequate offensive line. Manning has the perfect temperament for playing in the New York metropolitan area as the intense media spotlight does not seem to faze him. He is very smart and hard-working. Manning has excellent size and decent arm strength. Relatively immobile, Manning rarely extends a play when his protection breaks down and is not a threat to harm a defense with his feet. Although he’s a tough competitor who has never missed a game due to injury in 14 seasons, Manning has become a bit more gun-shy in recent years due to shoddy pass protection. Manning excels in the mental aspects of the game and reads opposing defenses extremely well. Manning is still guilty of making the ill-advised, head-scratching throw when the smarter decision would be to throw the football away or take the sack. His gun-slinger mentality – which leads to big plays – also causes him to make some risky throws in tight windows. Manning was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2011, and played in the game after the 2012 and 2015 regular seasons as an alternate.
THE SURPRISE BACK-UP
Alex Tanney, who the Giants signed in May 2018 after he was cut by the Tennessee Titans, surprisingly won the team’s back-up quarterback job, a role he played in 15 of 16 games. However, he did not see any regular-season action. The 6’4”, 220-pound Tanney was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2012 NFL Draft. The well-traveled journeyman has spent time with the Chiefs (2012), Dallas Cowboys (2013), Cleveland Browns (2013), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2014), Titans (2014), Buffalo Bills (2015), Indianapolis Colts (2015), and Titans again (2015–2018). Tanney has only played in one regular-season game, coming off the bench for the Titans in 2015. He played in three preseason games for the Giants in 2018, completing 18-of-33 passes (54.5 percent) for 177 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions.
DRIVING MR. LAULETTA
The Giants selected Kyle Lauletta in the 4th round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The team’s third quarterback for the bulk of the season, Lauletta did play late in the game of a blowout win. However, he did not distinguish himself, going 0-of-5 with one interception. Lauletta also was arrested midway through the season due to a serious traffic infraction. The scouting report on Lauletta coming out of college was that he is a smart, accurate short- to intermediate-passer whose lack of arm strength limits his overall game.