By picking running back Saquon Barkley second overall in what was a quarterback-rich draft class, the Giants let it be known they were all-in this year on Eli Manning, who will turn 38 in January. It’s been seven years since the Giants last won a Super Bowl, and they’ve made the playoffs just once in that time, a stretch in which the organization has run through two coaching changes and a front-office overhaul. Manning is the one constant, and with the Giants sitting at 1-4 and staring at another lost season, it’s getting harder to ignore the reality that Manning might be finished.
The players are noticing it, too. A report that dropped today from ESPN’s Jordan Raanan indicates that the doubts about Manning run deeper than those expressed by wideout Odell Beckham Jr. in his bombshell interview with ESPN’s Josina Anderson. Here’s Raanan:
Behind closed doors, several Giants players have expressed frustration with Manning’s performance, according to sources. One player specifically commented recently about Manning’s inability to do anything against Cover 2 and zone defenses.
It’s true that Manning has completed a career-high 71.7 percent of his passes this season, and that he’s on pace to throw for nearly 4,500 yards, with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2:1. But those gaudy stats don’t speak to Manning’s general inefficiency. Basically, he’s piling up nice numbers by frequently checking down with short throws. To wit:
- Per Pro Football Focus, Manning’s average depth of target on third and fourth down (Manning is 0-for-2 on fourth down, so this is largely a third-down stat for him) is 7.19 yards, which ranks 28th in the league.
- Also per PFF, just 44.9 percent of his yards on third and fourth down have come through the air, which likewise ranks 28th.
- On third down and four yards or more, Manning is 29-for-40 (72.5 percent) for 273 yards and zero interceptions. But just 13 of those 29 completions have resulted in first downs or touchdowns.
- Manning’s average air yards to the sticks—the amount of air yards ahead or behind the first-down marker on all throws—is minus-2.4, the fourth-lowest total in the league.
- His ALEX, a Football Outsiders metric that measures the length of a throw and the distance needed for a new set of downs on third downs, is minus-1.5 yards, which is fifth-lowest in the NFL.
- Manning has attempted 24 deep throws (20 air yards or more), the eighth-highest total in the league, per PFF. But he has just seven completions for a total of just 195 yards. And Manning’s accuracy percentage on deep balls is 29.2 percent, ahead of only Josh Allen and Ryan Tannehill among qualified starters.
You get the idea. All this is happening even as the Giants have surrounded Manning with one of the league’s best collections of complementary skill players. And the team made some investments during the offseason to bolster its offensive line, which is still bad—23rd in adjusted sack rate, according to Football Outsiders—but not the sole reason for the Giants’ woes. Yes, the Giants could stand to do more by lining Barkley up in the slot or out wide with greater frequency—something they’ve done on just 6.9 percent of his snaps, per PFF—but it’s not like Manning is doing much even when he’s had the chance to take shots downfield.
Raanan’s story gets to the heart of the matter this way (emphasis mine):
In recent years, some individuals inside the organization have believed that Manning is holding the team back. Most have since been fired.
Some thought Manning was the problem as far back as four or five years ago, according to sources with knowledge of the Giants’ thinking. Maybe they were right.
If Manning and the Giants continue at their current pace, the frustration will intensify.
Raanan goes on to detail how Giants co-owner John Mara drew exactly the wrong conclusion from the fan backlash that ensued after then-coach Ben McAdoo benched Manning for Geno Smith last December. That might have been the time for the organization to begin planning for life after Manning. Instead, the Giants hired GM Dave Gettleman, who opted to try to patch things up around Manning. Now what?