By Christian S. Kohl
As the Patriots and Giants gear up for a Super Bowl rematch, many have noted the incredible number of personnel changes on both sides. Despite the substantial turnover in lineups, the quarterbacks for both teams remain the same. I’ll rephrase. The quarterbacks are the same, yet, Eli Manning is in no way the same quarterback.
He has developed in every statistical category. Comparing the two seasons, this year he made 60 more passing attempts and threw 4 fewer picks. Threw for 4,933 as opposed to 3,336, which averaged out to an additional 100 passing yards per game. Perhaps the most telling statistic of all would be recording 18 plays of 40 yards or more this season, to only 6 in 2007.
To ignore variables such as Victor Cruz would be entirely unfair. The playmakers he has this year in Nicks and Cruz, along with X-factors like Beckum, Manningham and even Ballard make for a stellar set of receivers. They represent threats to every level of a defense, and often can overwhelm secondaries with their speed, hands, and precise route-running.
Regardless, Eli is simply a different quarterback now. The philosophy with him during his early years was to be a game manager. Take high percentage, safe throws. Don’t go deep into progressions. Throw the ball away if your primary read is covered, and avoid picks at all costs. Don’t worry about winning the game, and simply focus on not losing the game.
Now, he has demonstrated time and again that if the Giants have a chance for a win on the last possession, he will deliver in the clutch and find a way to win. Manning is no longer expected to manage the Giants, he is expected to carry them, even rescue them late in games from multiple score deficits. Many passing records fell this season, and it felt as though quarterbacks approaching or surpassing 5,000 yards were not in short supply. Yet all quarterbacks who passed for more yardage than Manning also received more help on the ground than he did. Despite the philosophy of Coughlin to establish and enforce the ground game with his three-man rushing attack, New York ranked last in rushing yards per game and yards per attempt.
Manning took huge strides forward this year while others such as Rivers and Flacco arguably took steps backwards in their development. Despite an often sour disposition and an array of dissatisfied facial expressions that provoke anger from his fans, Eli Manning has established himself as a feared presence and an elite quarterback in the NFL. In an era of quarterbacks, some of whom may be the best the game has yet seen, Eli is by no stretch of the imagination the best of them all. Yet he has proven time and again this season that seemingly no second half deficit he faces is insurmountable. If New England wins this rematch against the Giants, they must not consider any lead to be safe. Because as long as Eli has the ball in a tight game, New York has a chance to win, and a good one at that.
Christian S. Kohl is a writer and filmmaker based in New York City. Find out more about him at DailySpew.com