We can debate Hall of Fame or not, but Eli Manning has had a very fine career. He’s also 38 and coming off three straight seasons as a medicore-minus QB. In other words, Ben McAdoo and the rest of the organization didn’t go about it the right way, but the evaluation that Eli wasn’t good enough to play for a team with playoff aspirations wasn’t wrong. His teammates have apparently reached the same conclusion. When I wrote about it last year, I just assumed the Giants would use their top 3 pick to take Eli’s replacement, but instead they decided that the problem with the offense was everybody but Eli, and they decided to go into win-now mode: plowing money into the offensive line, giving Beckham a big extension, and using a #2 pick on a running back. Admittedly, the offensive line rebuild hasn’t really taken — apparently, Chandler Jones notwithstanding, if Bill Belichick decides he wants to move on from a veteran in a key role you still probably don’t want him. But unlike so many Best Running Back Prospects Since Adrian Peterson Barkley looks genuinely spectacular, at yet the Giants offense remains a massive trainwreck, and by process of elimination….
Here’s a fun thing to think about: Has an offense with the quality of skill players that the New York Giants possess ever looked this bad? This is a team that lines up one of the best wide receivers in football, a rookie running back who treats defenders like bad guys in a Kung Fu movie, and a big, fast tight end who is perfectly suited for a modern NFL offense. And yet this team is scoring just 19.5 points per game, and got blown out 34-13 last night. The problem here is Eli Manning.
The degree to which Manning is holding back the rest of the Giants’ offense has become clearer with each passing week, and last night threw his flaws into the harshest light yet. He threw for 281 yards, but a huge chunk of those came on check-downs that left Saquon Barkley to do all the work. He couldn’t complete any passes that traveled more than a few yards down the field, and when his often-bad offensive line actually gave him time to throw, he couldn’t make anything happen…
The performance was so bad that head coach Pat Shurmur couldn’t hide his exasperation on the sideline. After Manning checked to a screen pass on one play, Fox cameras caught Shurmur throwing his hands up and saying, “Throw the ball!”
All of this happened just a few hours after ESPN published a report detailing how Manning has lost the confidence of his teammates, who see him as a quarterback easily smothered by zone and Cover 2 defenses. Nothing Manning did last night did much to counter that hypothesis.
I mean, sure, the Giants still don’t have much of an offensive line, although it’s improved as the season has gone on. But neither do the Vikings or Chargers or Bengals or Bucs and they have good-to-excellent offenses because their QBs aren’t cooked. Russell Wilson plays behind one of the league’s worst o-lines, the Giants’ #2 wideout would be Seattle’s best skill position player, and his plays are being called by one of Jeff Fisher’s least promising disciples, and his AY/A is still more than a yard better than than Eli’s. To say that Manning would look better if he had a clean pocket on every throw is 1)true and 2)also true of lots of guys who carry clipboards unless the teams top two QBs get hurt. He’s done. And if the Giants don’t find a viable replacement quickly Barkley won’t merely remind you of Barry Sanders, he’ll waste his prime on a team that doesn’t win anything like Sanders.
To turn to QBs who are still extraordinary as they push or pass 40, this tribute to Drew Brees is excellent. And it’s too bad that the most interesting NFL game of the year so far is programmed against Game 2 of the ALCS, but that’s what DVRs are for.