The End of Eli?

Updated: September 21st 2017

Struggles of the New York Giants offense during the first two weeks of the NFL season led many to question whether Eli Manning’s play diminished to the point that his career is nearing the end.  The question becomes is this season that much different for Manning?  Are there other factors in the play here which contribute to the Giants’ poor play so far?  I take a deeper look into the question comparing this season with the rest of Eli’s career.

Eli’s Career

Eli Manning accumulated many accolades over the course of his 14 seasons.  Eli amassed 48,677 yards (8th all-time) and 321 touchdowns (7th all-time) so far in his career.  Manning’s yardage and touchdown numbers are greater than that of many quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame.  Those numbers are due, in part, to his remarkable run of availability.  Manning has been a model of good health over his career never missing a game to injury playing every game for the New York Giants.  The Giants have managed 6 playoff appearances during Manning’s time as quarterback and he owns an 8-4 playoff record during that time.  The New York quarterback also won two Super Bowl trophies over the years including two Super Bowl MVPs, beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for each win.

Not all has been great in the Manning realm throughout his career though.  Eli has been one of the most consistently inconsistent quarterbacks in the league.  He has the skills to produce great seasons like the Super Bowl winning 2011 year in which Manning threw for nearly 5,000 yards while at the same time fully capable of completely imploding as in the 2013 season in which he led the league with an astounding 27 interceptions.  Manning tossed 217 interceptions so far, second among active quarterbacks.  His inconsistency can appear even in the same game.  Manning may look like a Hall of Famer one minute making solid pinpoint accurate throws for chunks of a game.  The next minute might easily see Manning throwing horribly inaccurate throws and making awful decisions usually reserved for rookies.  And what about that stellar playoff record?  Outside of those two Super Bowl seasons, Manning produced exactly zero wins in four playoff appearances producing an abysmal 54% completion percentage, a miniscule 6.3 yards per attempt, and an ugly 3:7 touchdown to interception ratio during those games.

Eli Compared to Other Quarterbacks

I next take a look at how Manning has performed in relation to other NFL quarterbacks.  The chart below shows Manning’s yearly ranking for a variety of quarterback metrics including ESPN’s QBR, passer rating, and Football Outsider’s quarterback DVOA.  Manning’s average of each metric is displayed at the bottom of the chart not including 2017.  The results are decidedly mediocre.  Manning manages zero top-5 and few top-10 finishes by any measure throughout his entire career.  His best score is a middle of the pack average of 15th over his career.  Eli’s recent history is even worse.  From 2013-2016, Manning best average among the listed metrics is only 21st.  Put succinctly, Eli was never among the better quarterbacks in the league and his play in recent years qualifies only as average, at best, for starting quarterbacks in the NFL.  His play this season does appear completely not out of the norm when compared to his latest years.

So what types of players are the best comparables to Manning?  Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco provide the closest comps to Manning with very similar yards per attempt, completion percentage, and touchdown to interception ratios found below.  This may seem surprising at first but really should not be when one thinks about the players, particularly Cutler.  Manning and Cutler share many of the same strengths including good arm strength but also many of the same weaknesses including the afore-mentioned poor decision making and inconsistent accuracy.  Pro-Football-Reference’s Adjusted Yards per Attempt and Net Yards per Attempt are also included below for additional comparison purposes.

Eli’s Surrounding Circumstances in New York

Numbers sometimes hide the true value of a player working in a sub-optimal situation so we need to look at Manning’s surround cast during his time with the Giants to determine if he was handicapped by his fellow teammates.  Below we find Football Outsider’s efficiency rankings on total defense, offensive line pass protection (adjusted sack rate), and offensive rushing for New York during the Manning years with the average rank from 2004 to 2016.  New York’s defense and rushing attack have overall been within the norm of the NFL, ranking slightly above average.  Most interesting is the great pass protection Manning received over his career which has generally been superb.  New York finished outside the top-11 in adjusted sack rate only twice in thirteen years and Eli only faced very poor pass protection once which happened during his rookie season.  Overall, the data verifies Manning was not hindered by his teammates over the course of his career and his supporting personnel likely boosted his outcomes to some extent above what would be expected if Manning played for another team.

Looking at this season, there is no doubt the offensive line struggles significantly impact Manning’s performance.  Eli is under far more pressure than what he is accustomed to and the Giants’ coaching staff has not provided help for an offensive line that is clearly overmatched so far this year.  Manning has not helped the situation.  He looks like an immovable statue in the pocket and holds the ball far too long too often taking sacks when it is clear he should simply throw the ball away.

Conclusion

While Manning’s gross numbers and accomplishments suggest a player worth of Hall of Fame recognition, a deeper look into the statistics demonstrates a decidedly average quarterback over the course of his career.  His perception as a great quarterback relies significantly on what I will call “highlight” bias coming from two Super Bowl wins and his luck on the injury axis likely contributed by a great offensive line throughout much of his career.

We really should not be surprised by Manning’s current level of play given his drop off in efficiency over recent years.  Manning benefitted from stellar pass protection for most of his career.  With what looks to be one of the few truly bad offensive lines in Eli’s career this season, Manning’s lack of mobility might well be on full display.  Ben McAdoo and the rest of the New York coaching staff may very well adjust blocking schemes adding more blockers, or adjust offensive schemes to quicker throws.  If not, Manning and the Giants offense could be looking at a very ugly season.  Taking a broad view, it is doubtful Manning’s play greatly diminished this season as some suggest.  It is far more likely New York’s offensive line struggles simply magnify some of Eli’s deficiencies as a player.  Manning has not been a particularly good quarterback for a long time and that is unlikely to change as his career draws to an end.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.