The New York Giants have their fair share of questions heading into the 2013 season.
Who will be the starting right tackle? Can David Wilson excel as the feature running back? Will the defense bounce back from a miserable performance in 2012 that saw them allow the second-most yards in the NFL?
One question that won’t need to be answered is “Who will start at quarterback?”. Eli Manning is the undisputed signal-caller and leader of the offense, as he has been since the middle of the 2004 season.
Despite the lack of a quarterback controversy on Big Blue, there is still some intrigue at this position. The aggressive selection of Ryan Nassib in the fourth round of the NFL draft has allowed Giants fans to ponder “life without Eli” for the first time in nearly a decade. In addition, Nassib’s presence all but guarantees that there will be a new backup to Manning in 2013.
New York currently has four quarterbacks on their roster–Manning, Nassib, David Carr and Curtis Painter. They have only carried two signal-callers in the regular season since the start of the 2008 season.
It would be strange for them to alter this strategy now, considering Manning’s durability (135 starts in a row and counting). Not carrying a third quarterback opens an extra roster spot that can be filled by another position—a luxury that teams with an injury-prone quarterback don’t enjoy.
Therefore, it is a virtual certainty that two of the remaining three quarterbacks not named Manning won’t be on the team when the Giants open the season against the Cowboys in Dallas on Sept. 8.
It is hard to imagine a scenario where Nassib isn’t the survivor. For starters, New York was giddy to get him in the fourth round–so giddy, in fact, that they surrendered a sixth-round selection to move up six spots to make sure they got him with the 110th overall pick.
The icing on the “Nassib will be the backup quarterback” cake is that Tom Coughlin, who is usually hard on rookies, is already showering him with compliments. Check out Coughlin’s assessment of Nassib at rookie minicamp, courtesy of Dave Hutchinson at The Star Ledger:
I think probably one of the things that continues to grow on you is the way the quarterback is. He responded to a new system — first time ever and was showing some ability to lead in the huddle and the huddle pays attention to him. The offensive line seems to have responded pretty well to him.
With the starter entrenched and the depth chart heading toward a clear conclusion, evaluating Manning’s 2012 season makes sense at this point–especially as an indicator of future trends and ways to improve performance at the quarterback position in 2013.
Manning had an uneven 2012 season when you compare it to his production the previous three seasons.
On the negative side, he failed to throw for 4,000 yards for the first time since 2008 and broke a streak of four consecutive seasons where he completed at least 60 percent of his passes. Also, his 26 passing touchdowns was his lowest output in this category in four years.
Conversely, Manning was less error-prone in 2012. He had only 15 interceptions, the third-lowest 16-game season total of his career (he had nine interceptions in nine games in his rookie season). He also fumbled a mere four times, the fewest in his career, excluding his rookie campaign.
A game-to-game analysis, though, shows that, despite a better overall capacity to protect the ball, Manning’s season was ultimately a disappointment due to wild inconsistency.
His highs were in the clouds as he amassed 18 of his 26 touchdowns in five games. However, that means he only had eight touchdowns in the other 11 games and he compounded this lack of scoring by throwing nine interceptions in these games as well.
Manning also put together a terrible three-game stretch in the middle of the season that helped catapult Big Blue into another second-half swoon. From Week 8 through Week 10, Eli failed to throw a touchdown against four interceptions and he only averaged 177 yards passing per game.
Now that we’ve looked at the big picture, lets break down Manning’s performance in specific aspects of the position.
The nine-year veteran was phenomenal at avoiding sacks behind an average pass-blocking offensive line. He was corralled only 19 times, which was the lowest total in the NFL for a quarterback with a minimum of 400 dropbacks (number of times dropping back to pass).
This was the second time in three seasons he was sacked less than 20 times.
What is especially impressive about this league-leading performance is that only left tackle Will Beatty had a Pro Football Focus pass-blocking rating higher than 3.0. In fact, David Diehl, Kevin Boothe and David Baas all had negative ratings.
Manning’s elusiveness in the pocket and quick release were the main reasons why he avoided sacks, not above-average offensive line play.
Carelessness, unfortunately, also played a part.
Manning threw eight interceptions when he was deemed “under pressure” by Pro Football Focus. This was tied for the second highest total in the league with Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck. It seems that Eli would have thrown a few less interceptions if he had taken a few more sacks.
A big reason why the Giants won the Super Bowl two years ago was their ability to make plays down the field and in the passing game. In 2012, their downfield passing attack was less emphasized and also not as effective.
In 2011, Manning attempted 109 passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air. He completed 43 of these passes, despite eight drops, for 1,490 yards and 12 TDs.
Last season, his attempts on this specific type of pass fell to 68. He completed only 27 of them, while incurring six less drops then the year before, for 1,014 yards and eight TDs. Simply put, plays like this didn’t occur as much in 2012 compared to 2011.
Finally, a hidden bright spot in Manning’s game last season could be further exploited in 2013.
Play action passing was not a big part of the Giants offensive attack in 2012. Manning only attempted 79 play action passes, a low number compared to the rest of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL (for example, Peyton Manning tied for the lead-league in this category with Christian Ponder with 156 Play action pass attempts).
Despite the low attempts, Eli was tremendous on play action, throwing seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He was the only quarterback with at least 68 play action pass attempts to not throw a pick.
Given this success, and the fact that the Giants running game was respectable, averaging 116.4 yards per game on 4.6 yards per carry, it is surprising they didn’t try to exploit this weapon more often.
Expect Coughlin and Kevin Glibride to go to school on these stats, if they haven’t done so already, which should translate into more play action pass attempts in 2013.
All advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
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