Eli Manning Is a Giant Albatross

In General, NFL by Samori Benjamin

At his best he was mediocre quarterback, and the Giants loyalty to him has held them back for years.

In 2007 and 2011, the New York football Giants had 16 players who performed on both teams and have two Super Bowl rings to show for it. However the Giants have long gotten rid of every player on those teams…except one.    The coaching staff was let go after the 2015 season and the General Manager was fired at the end of the 2017 season, along with the head coach who was hired to replace the Super Bowl winning head coach. All this drama because they dared to sit Eli Manning down in week 13, whose record was a dismal 2-9. Alas, the case argued by Eli’s many defenders is that he has two championship rings! That is supposed to end all doubts as to whether he deserves to be the starting quarterback year after underachieving losing year. Clearly the public acts as if Manning was the biggest reason the Giants won their two Super Bowl victories, and they give him most of the credit; which is the reason he is still on the team.

If Eli’s two Super bowl success’ grant him what seems to be a lifetime of immunity from the ownership and management axe, then why wasn’t that the case for the other members of those Super Bowl winning teams? Why when it was time for a decision to be made on running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw the “But he has two rings” line wasn’t used as support from the public to keep them on the team? Why wasn’t that used when the giants decided to get rid of Justin Tuck? When Osi Umenyiora fought for years to get from management what he felt was a market rate contract for a very good consistent two-time champion pass rusher, where was all the championship talk on his behalf? When time came for Head Coach Tom Coughlin to meet his fate why wasn’t the same “he has two rings” argument used to save his job? And the same for General Manager Jerry Reese who was the architect of those teams?

When the Giants rightfully sat Eli with five games remaining in 2017 and the fan base and New York media wanted blood, why did no one make a case for Reese and his sterling credentials? Head Coach Ben Mcadoo was portrayed as a bumbling fool in 2017, a year after guiding the Giants to an 11-5 record in spite of Eli Manning; who had a poor season and was ranked 27th among NFL quarterbacks. Eli was ranked ahead of only Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick who had a hideous year for the Jets, and Case Keenum who quarterbacked the Rams 32nd ranked dead last offense. McAdoo should have received an award for making the playoffs with quarterback play that inept. Any other Head Coach would have been lauded and a new quarterback would have been brought in the following season.  Contrary to urban myth, Manning has been inept for most of his Giants career, especially the last seven seasons. Continuing to run him out as the starting quarterback has set the Giants back years. The same way a team is set back when they select a quarterback high in the draft who turns out to be a bust.

Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL not because a team necessarily needs a great quarterback to win; we’ve seen a lot of good teams, even teams who have won Super Bowls, that did not have a great all-time quarterback – Jim McMahon, Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson are cases in point. Quarterback is the most important position because they touch the ball on every offensive play and ineptness at the position can hold a team back and wreck a season. Such has been the case with the Giants for years. People forget that Eli did not come to a team whose roster was barren when he was drafted in 2004. Two years prior, the Giants offense put 38 points on the board midway through the third quarter of their opening round playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers, before the team collapsed and lost the game in the 4th quarter. Two years before that the Giants beat Minnesota 41-0 in the NFC Championship game, nearly winning a Super Bowl with Kerry Collins. The 41 and 38 point efforts are more points than Eli has ever put up in a postseason game, and the 381 yards in the Vikings game and the 342 yards in the San Francisco game are also more yards than Manning has ever thrown for in a postseason game. Collins, who had a big arm, holds the franchise record for most touchdowns thrown in a Giants playoff game with 5.

The point here is that most Giants fans view Collins as a run of the mill quarterback who passed through the organization for a few years, and is given little respect for the success the team did have while he was there. But the Giants came close to winning a Super Bowl with Collins because he was solid and he had a talented team around him.  Not as talented though, as the players Eli had in in 07’ and 11’. Much of the core from those early 2000 Giants playoff teams were still around when Eli was deemed the Chosen One by the Giants organization and selected first overall in 2004. He did not go into a situation where the team had been down for a few years and had a weak roster, the way some top overall picks do. Being a Manning, brother of Peyton and son of Archie, Eli came into the NFL from day one with a lot of hype and given every opportunity to succeed.

Up until Eli got there the Giants had not been known as a franchise with great wide receivers. The last Giants Wide receiver selected to the pro bowl had been Homer Jones in 1968. When the starting wide receivers Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard combined for zero touchdowns in Eli’s first year in 2004, Giants management made it a priority to put talented receivers around him in order to give him the best chance to succeed.  In his first off season with the team they went out and signed 6’5 Plaxico Burress, a top talent whose size made him a bigger target than any other receiver in the league. In his first full season as starter in 2005, Eli leaned heavily on Tiki Barber who was playing at a Hall of Fame level during the back end of his 10 year career, and Burress made a big difference in the passing game.

The defense led by Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and free agent middle linebacker signing Antonio Pierce helped make the Giants defense one of the best in the league. Strahan had 11.5 sacks that season and Umenyiora had 14.5. The Giants put a very talented team around Eli. But in their first playoff game that season, at home, the quarterback play held them back as Eli completed just 10 passes for 113 yards, three interceptions and a fumble. The Giants lost 23-0. The only other time a Giants offense failed to score at home in a playoff game was in 1943…over a half century ago!

At his best, Eli Manning was a game manager and nothing more. Often times  “game manager” is looked at as a negative or a slight. However, a game manager is better than a bad quarterback. A bad quarterback will completely stop any chance a legit team has in having success. A team with the right talent around a game manager can win a Super Bowl. This has been shown throughout NFL history, the 2007 and 2011 Giants are another example. Simply, a game manager quarterback is not the biggest reason a team is as good as they are. Someone has to play the position, they just cannot be awful or the team has no chance.

During Manning’s first three seasons with the Giants Tiki Barber was the entire offense and Manning would not have made it through had his All-time great running back not been there. In 2006, the Giants finished 8-8 but It was good enough to sneak into the playoffs, courtesy of a heroic performance from Barber who rushed for 234 yards and three touchdowns in the final game of the regular season, a 34-28 win over Washington. Barber broke his own franchise record  of 220 yards rushing in a game that he set the previous season against Kansas City. Eli’s 161 yards passing the following week in their opening game of the playoffs weren’t enough to beat the Philadelphia Eagles and their backup quarterback Jeff Garcia, who beat the Giants 23-20.

By year four Eli’s subpar play continued. Giants fans were not impressed. Needing a victory in the 15th game of the season to clinch a playoff spot the Giants had a road game in Buffalo. Eli completed seven passes for 111 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. The Giants, in spite of Eli, won the game 38-21. Brandon Jacobs ran for 143 yards and two scores and rookie Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 151 yards and an 88 yard touchdown that gave the Giants a 10 point lead late in the 4th quarter. The defense scored twice as well. The following week Giants fans were calling up sports talk radio ready to run Manning out of town! Heading into the final week of the season he had thrown for 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions; he led the NFL in interceptions! Then a funny thing happened. Having already clinched a playoff spot and nothing to lose, the Giants hosted the 15-0 New England Patriots on the final Saturday of the regular season and stood with them toe to toe. The Giants put big points on the board for a second straight week, this time Eli played a big part throwing four touchdowns in a game the Giants nearly pulled off as they lost 38-35. The effort however gave Eli and the entire Giants team confidence that they could play with and beat anybody, the rest is history.

The Giants entered the playoffs with a 10-6 record, but when they reached the playoffs it all came together and they played up to the level that they were capable of. The biggest difference with the team was the quarterback play improved. It wasn’t Hall of Fame level of play, where he carried the team with his arm, but he wasn’t playing shaky the way he usually does. He stopped making mistakes, stopped turning the ball over, got the ball to his play makers, and allowed the all around talent of the team to take over. Candidly and succinctly put:  Eli Manning stopped holding the team back. He threw for under 200 yards and two touchdowns in each of the Giants first two playoff wins on the road against Tampa and Dallas. The biggest stat for Manning however, was that he didn’t turn the ball over either of those games. In the NFC Championship game in Green Bay he threw for 251 yards and no touchdowns; no turnovers as well. Plaxico Burress was the star of that game, catching 11 of Manning’s 21 completions for 151 yards in temperatures close to below zero. Anyone being honest with themselves knows the biggest reason the Giants won the following game in Super Bowl XLII against the Patriots and their historic offense was because of their defense and pass rush. Tom Brady that season threw 50 touchdown passes and Randy Moss caught 23 of them. If Brady has his normal “Tom Brady” performance, the Giants aren’t beating the Patriots by scoring 17 points. The defense, as in the first three games of that postseason kept the score low and kept the team in the game, where Eli Manning just had to not turn the ball over, make a few plays and the team had a chance to win. That is the winning formula for a team that has a game manager at quarterback. Manning, as we know, was voted Most Valuable Player of the Giants 17-14 victory.

The play that everyone remembers from the Super Bowl is Manning’s miraculous throw and catch to David Tyree, who used his helmet to catch the football after Manning escaped what looked to be a sure sack at the start of the play. What most fans don’t remember is the play before where Manning threw the ball right to New England defensive back Asante Samuel who was standing by himself in the flat, ala Neil O’Donnell throwing the ball to defensive back Larry Brown in Super Bowl XXIX. If Samuel catches the gift that Eli gave, the game would have been over and Eli would have been the goat of the Super Bowl. If that happened Eli probably does not make it another four years as Giants quarterback to even have a chance of playing in another Super Bowl. Instead Manning was chosen the MVP of Super Bowl XLVI and everyone wants to put him in the Hall of Fame after he finishes the late fourth quarter drive with a dramatic 13 yard game winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress.

The next season Manning and the Giants went 12-4, but after Burress accidently shot himself in a Manhattan night club before week 13 he never played another game for the team and Eli and the Giants struggled to score points without him. Eli threw just 21 touchdowns on the season and the Giants lost four of their final six games which included a 23-11 home loss in their first game of the playoffs as the number one seed to the Philadelphia Eagles. Manning threw for 169 yards no touchdowns and two interceptions. So much for the claim that Eli always plays at his best in the postseason when the games and the pressure is the greatest. In all four losses after Burress shot himself the Giants scored less than 20 points.

Eli’s best seasons were from 2009 through 2011, when he developed an outstanding chemistry with young receivers Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham Steve Smith, and then Victor Cruz. He would throw for 4,000 yards for the first time in his career, reaching it all three seasons. His chemistry was so in sync with Smith in 2009, they connected on 107 passes and Smith had 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns. For the first time since Jones in 1968 the Giants had a receiver make it to the Pro Bowl. The Giants finished 8-8. In 2010, Nicks, in his third season, had his first of two seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving and he reached the end zone 11 times, as the Giants finished 10-6 and missed the playoffs again. Eli eclipsed the 30 touchdown pass mark for the first time in his career with 31. He also threw for an NFL high 25 interceptions.

In 2011, Eli threw for 4,933 yards, the most in his career, but he was still inconsistent and the team was 7-7 entering their final two games against the rival Jets and Cowboys. Victor Cruz was the player of the game in both contest, as he took two short Manning passes and ran after the catch for long game changing scores, propelling  the Giants into the playoffs. Cruz had the best season of any receiver in Giants history up to that point, totaling 1,536 yards and 9 touchdowns. The core from the 2007 Super Bowl team was still in place so it was back to the same formula. They got into the playoffs, Eli played solid mistake free football, got the ball to his playmakers and allowed the playmakers on defense to do their job. When the postseason was over the giants had won four games again, concluding with a 21-17 win over New England in Super Bowl XLVI. Again, if the Giants defense does not prevent Tom Brady from having one of his usual Brady-esque performances, holding him to just 17 points, then the Giants probably do not win. Eli Manning is not a quarterback who made his career by winning shootouts. Manning again is named Super Bowl MVP, even though the defense is probably the biggest reason they won. If a defense can keep the score close allowing the quarterback to have to make just a handful of plays, then a team can win with Eli Manning. When everything is perfect around him. Well, what quarterback cannot win like that?

The seven season’s since Super Bowl 46 have been the worse in the last 40 years of the franchise. Once everyone around New York acted as if Eli Manning was the biggest reason the Giants won those two Super Bowls. Yet once the Giants got rid of the talented players from that team, because the organization felt they were on the decline, and built everything around Manning, the team has been a perennial loser. The Giants record is 47-65 since the end of the Super Bowl 46 winning season. And the most disappointing part of it all was that Manning regressed back to his early years when his play was so poor it held the team back.

In 2013 they opened the season 0-6 and Manning had the worse season of any quarterback in the league with 18 touchdowns and a league leading 27 interceptions. That’s when Giants General Manager Jerry Reese drafted Odell Beckham Jr. in the next draft and saved Eli’s career. Beckham made Eli’s numbers look way better than they would have been had he not been on the team. Eli was able to throw a five yard pass to Beckham and watch him take it 50, 60, 70 yards to the house, inflating Eli’s stats. The only other time Manning reached the 30 touchdown mark in a season outside of 2010 was 2014 and 2015 Beckahm’s first two season’s on the team. The Offense would have been unwatchable without Beckham; it would have been a dysfunctional unit that struggled to move the ball. Even with Beckham the Giants finished a dismal 6-10 both seasons with Eli at the helm.

Yet, one could argue, the record wouldn’t have even been that good had Beckham not been on the team. In 2016, the Giants were 11-5 with Eli having a bad season. It was clear to any knowledgeable observer; the team had a lot of talent but suffered from incompetent quarterback play which stopped them from being able to go further, as has been the case with many football teams over the years. When the schedule got better in 2017, the team finished 3-13. It was their worse season in over 40 years. When Eli was benched at 2-9 the fans and the media made it all about Eli, when it is always supposed to be about the team. The other 52 guys who bust their butt as well during all the off-season practice programs and training camp. At 2-9, what team does not look at their backup quarterback, see what he can do and give him a chance? But when Eli got benched it was portrayed as a great disservice being done to him. What nonsense!  The unvarnished truth be told: A great disservice has been done to his teammates for a long time now.

When the performance of the members from those championship team’s declined the Giants got rid of them; which is common fare in the Darwinian of professional football, where only the strong survive and the question of the day is “what have you done for me lately.” However when Eli Manning’s play went down he got a new 4 year $84 million contract from the Giants, which he received before the start of the 2015 season. Over the last seven seasons, as the Giants have failed to make the playoffs in all but one, every player has been shipped away, two head coaching staff’s and a general manager have been let go. The one constant has been Eli Manning. There is always an excuse as to why he doesn’t play well.

Everybody’s favorite excuse is to blame it on a supposed weak offensive line, which is ridiculous and the easy cop out. If an offensive line is bad then that’s supposed to be the end of the conversation; the perfect excuse for why the quarterback can never do anything right. Well, in Manning’s case that is an excuse, and most years Manning is far from the most sacked or rushed quarterback in the league. The statistics show that quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes get rushed way more that Manning, but these guys not only deal with it but thrive. Alas, even when Eli has perfect protection he often times is not good. Yet the blame for the team’s struggles are always placed elsewhere. Giants fans and the media blamed General manager Jerry Reese for years which was wrong, now the man who was brought in to replace him has torn apart a good roster, a roster similar to the  07’ and 11’ teams.

The trade of Odell Beckham was another example of a player being scapegoated, while the organization and the public refuse to face reality: The quarterback is the problem! With the pairing of Saqoun Barkley and Odell Beckham the Giants were setup to be a power house offense for a decade.  With those two all-time players last season, as good as any compliment of weapons that a quarterback had, Eli struggled to move the ball in the first eight games and they lost all but one. But, inexplicably, instead of getting rid of Eli and moving on at the end of last season, they got rid of Beckham? Now their offense will suffer for years because of that bad move.

The Giants love Eli Manning so much that they drafted a clone with the 6th pick in the NFL draft this past year. A young man who looks like Eli and had the same Head Coach as him in college. David Cutcliffe, who was Eli’s head coach at Ole Miss, Jones Head coach at Duke and Peyton Manning’s offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee. Before the NFL draft there was talk that Jones was known as “the fourth Manning brother.” Now the Giants could be mired in mediocrity for years, best believe, there are a lot more losing seasons in the Giants near future.