The Giants have paid Eli Manning in a manner worthy of the best quarterback in football ($106 million over seven years). The problem is that Eli isn’t the best quarterback in football — in fact, if you go by the NFL’s passer rating, he is only the 14th best quarterback in football.
And if you go by the most important single passing statistic, yards per throw (6.76 for Eli last year), he is only the 21st best.
And since the Giants had, by consensus, one of the best offensive lines in the league, a terrific running game (number one in both yards per rush (5.0) and total yards (2518), and explosive veteran receivers, who else is to blame for his mediocre numbers but Eli himself?
Of course, the point is that most fans don’t blame Eli at all — not yet, anyway. Despite their disappointing finish last season and the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs, the Giants are still basking in the glow of the 2007-2008 postseason and the biggest upset in Super Bowl history over the previously unbeaten New England Patriots. Nobody wants to write that off as happenstance, and Eli is still young, but the truth is that except for that one season — actually, we should say except for that postseason — Manning has never been all that great a passer. If he doesn’t make a sudden leap in maturity this season, a lot of people are going to ask if the winter of 2008 wasn’t a fluke.
It can’t be said with any certainty that Eli is going to get the same level of support this season as last. Brandon Jacobs is still the biggest bulldozing running back in the league, but the slashing Derrick Ward, who relieved Jacobs so well late in the game when the big guy tired, is now in Tampa Bay, and Plaxico Burress, the most dangerous receiver the Giants have had for the last few seasons, will be playing flag football in the penal league. So Eli will have to up his game just to keep the offense even.
The Giants’ defense will almost certainly remain among the league’s best — the question, and this may be the biggest question of all for Big Blue — is how well first year defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan can duplicate the creative blitzes of departed defensive genius Steve Spagnuolo, who was the Giants’ real ace in the hole in big games.
All in all, it looks like a good year — if by “good” you mean a record of 10-6 or perhaps 11-5, but just falling short of a trip to the Super Bowl.