No quarterback receives more excuses for his interceptions than Eli Manning–which isn't at all to say those excuses don't have some validity. A few years ago, it did seem that an inordinate number of picks bounced off the hands of his receivers. This season, playing behind an offensive line composed of tackling dummies, Manning now has 15 INTs, and is on pace for a post-merger league record.
Manning's three picks last night bookended the Giants' most competent game of the year, still a 27-21 loss to Chicago. The first, on New York's third play from scrimmage, came when the line completely failed to pick up blitzing CB Isaiah Frey and Manning forced a throw to Rueben Randle before Randle had even turned around. The second, on the Giants' next possession, came before the pocket had time to collapse. It was pure miscommunication between Manning and Randle, who kept running while Tim Jennings easily reeled it in for a pick six.
The third was a game-killer at the two-minute warning, a poorly thrown ball to a wide open Brandon Myers. Though it did glance off Myers's fingertips, Myers is 6'3" and was leaping—that's a high ball, and it's on the QB. An emotional Manning stepped up after the game.
"I feel like I'm not doing my part … that's the frustrating part. I feel like our guys are fighting hard, and guys are doing their parts, and I need to start doing mine," Manning said.
The body language experts are out in full force. Manning was "distraught," "inconsolable," "fighting back the tears." But two championships in the last six seasons gains him at least a temporary pass from the usual New York tabloid vivisections. As of now, the line is that he's a good quarterback having a bad season. Still, Manning is 32, and the arrow tends to trend downward from there. 2014 promises to be an unusually QB-heavy draft, and the Giants should find themselves in prime picking position for the first time since...well, since they landed Manning.
The Post first broached the issue earlier this week. If the Giants land the No. 1 pick, the piece argued, they'll be hard pressed to pass on Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. NFL.com's College Football 24/7 podcast debated it too, with co-host Bucky Brooks claiming the Giants were a perfect landing spot for Bridgewater. Bridgwater looked good, not great, during his nationally televised win over Rutgers last night, with lots of NFL scouts in the stands. Including the GM of the Steelers, whose own franchise quarterback is a year younger than Eli Manning. Is it ever too early to start thinking about the next decade?
There's a lot against the Giants taking Bridgewater, or any other highly rated QB. The front office reportedly believes the team doesn't need a full rebuild, and with the league's TV money coming in next year, the salary cap figures to skyrocket allowing for many changes via free agency. This team has glaring holes in the secondary, the O-line, at running back, and in a moribund pass rush. Manning's not the one thing holding them back from contention.
From a more practical standpoint, it's hard to see the Giants earning the No. 1 pick in a league where the Jaguars exist, and Jacksonville openly and desperately craves a quarterback, as do the 0-4 Buccaneers and 1-3 Vikings. No, the rest of this season is about beating the likes of Pittsburgh, Carolina, and Atlanta to Jadeveon Clowney. Historically, the Giants franchise knows better than most that a good QB can't solve a team's wider problems, but an elite pass rush can cover up for any number of ills.
Image by Sam Woolley