Rocky's Football Corner, 1.23.2008

by Rick Rockwell

A quarterback served notice at Lambeau Field this past weekend that when it comes to the playoffs and championships in the next decade you are going to be hearing the name Manning in both conferences.

Eli Manning who directs the offense for the New York Giants finally came into his own during this playoff season. Not only did he best Brett Favre, one of the great quarterbacks in the National Football League (NFL) on the frozen tundra and in overtime, but Manning has been the picture of efficiency. Only two other quarterbacks have a better rating during the playoffs, and one of them is the league’s most-valuable player, Tom Brady. (The other is Billy Volek of San Diego who threw just four passes in relief of Philip Rivers two weeks ago.) Eli’s brother, by the way, you know, that guy who plays for the Colts and is in every other television commercial? He had a rating of 97.7, very respectable, but not as good as Eli’s 99.2. So Eli gets to go to the Super Bowl this year and Peyton Manning just gets to star in most of the Super Bowl commercials.

What happened to Eli in the playoffs? During the season, he had 23 touchdown passes compared to 20 interceptions and a rating of 73.9. Very ordinary. Even the Ravens’ washout Kyle Boller had a better rating. This was a typical season for Eli, as his career rating is 73.4.

But ever since the last game of the season against the New England Patriots, Eli has been playing at a higher level. Against the Patriots, he had four touchdown passes (twice as many as Brady, who did set the touchdown record this season) compared to one interception. Since that game he has not been picked off in three playoff games, and he has four touchdown passes in those playoff wins.

So what’s the Eli mystery? Why did he suddenly peak at just the right moment to lead his team to Super Bowl XLII?

Actually, it is no secret. First, Giants Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride has constructed excellent game plans, with Coach Tom Coughlin, meant to maximize Manning’s talents, but also lean heavily on the running game. They haven’t asked Manning to do too much or to press. Next, it is obvious it just took Eli four seasons to learn the offense.

And no, this is not because Manning is slow, or dumb, or not as serious as his brother. This is because it takes years to master an offense in the NFL (unlike in college) and teams tend to rush quarterbacks into service years before they are ready. This is a natural mistake because teams invest millions in high draft picks and the fans, the talk radio maniacs, and itchy owners want that investment to pay off. Immediately.

Lucky for Coughlin the Eli gamble finally turned to gold at the right time. If Coughlin had not won at least one playoff game, he'd would have probably lost his job. The media, fans and the talk radio fanatics all wanted that in the preseason. Even if he loses the Super Bowl, Coughlin's job is likely safe for a year or two.

But Coughlin gambled with Eli in 2004, when Manning was the top draft pick in the league, by starting him in the back half of the season, years before he was really ready to guide the team. Manning, by the way suffered through with a horrid 55.4 rating and the Giants, a team that had started strong with Kurt Warner at the helm, finished 6-10. Just think of how much better the Giants would have been in 2004 and 2005 if they had put Eli on the bench to study and stuck with Warner. (Warner, now in Arizona by the way, had a better rating than Eli this season, and there’s a strong argument to be made Warner should start next year when Matt Leinart comes back from his injury.)

Leinart in Arizona, Jason Campbell in Washington, and even Vince Young in Tennessee are all great examples of how talented college players cannot just step into an NFL offense and immediately light up the scoreboard like college. Look at what Todd Collins did in Washington after a decade of studying the offense, compared to Campbell’s mediocre performance. And Norm Chow, the former offensive coordinator for the Tennesee Titans is paying the price with his job because Young is not ready yet to run a complex offense.

Eli Manning shows it takes about four years for a quarterback to master the NFL and now he’s ready to challenge Brady. Again.

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Anonymous said...

I like Eli Manning, ironically reminds me of a 1970s quarterback, a Dan Pastorini, Brian Sipe type who doesn't take steriods, has a life outside of football and tries his best but has things in perspective enough to not make football his entire life.

I hope he and the Giants win against the Pats, that way another 1970s team, the Dolphins, will keep their own record in hand.

Rick Rockwell said...

As someone who has criticized Eli for years, I have to say he has turned the corner. And he is very likeable: not as driven as his brother, which was why some people knocked him.

If the Giants win (and they will give the Pats all they can handle) this will just fuel bar fights for decades. Which is the better team? '72 Dolphins or '07 Pats? The Pats have gone 18-0. The Dolphins 17-0 and they won the championship. As a fan of the '72 Dolphins too, it would be great to see the Giants knock them off... and they have a second chance to do it. I think the Giants have already demonstrated they will go toe to toe with the Pats and this will be a great game. Without the championship, the Patriots will always be considered less than the '72 Dolphins, even with an 18-0 record.

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