He's won Super Bowl MVP twice. But he's also been top-two in league interceptions twice, including leading the league in picks last year. Now, at the age of 33, Eli Manning is entering a make-or break season. A season in which he will either rejuvenate his storied career, or enter a sharp decline from which he will never return. That's what this year looks like for the starting Quarterback of the New York Giants.
The news broke on Monday. The news that David Wilson would be joining Chris Snee in retirement. Snee, a former Pro-Bowler and longtime Giant retired after an offseason back injury, saying he physically couldn't go through the grind of playing anymore. Wilson, at just 23 years of age, was also forced into retirement by an injury. He had spinal neck fusion surgery this offseason, and after announcing he was cleared to play just a few weeks ago, was told by doctors after suffering a practice injury that he could be permanently paralyzed if he ever played in the NFL again. Not only were these injuries devastating to the players that suffered them, they were also devastating to the Giants' 2014 season hopes.
The loss of Snee makes an already appalling offensive line even worse. While the loss of Wilson not only weakens the Giants' already-poor running game, it also hurts the team's spirit. If that breaks at any point during the season, it may be too much for Tom Coughlin & co. to handle.
Now: back to Manning. In a recent study, one sportswriter/mathematician did a study and found that if you do a study of all 27 of Eli Manning's interceptions last year, do you know how many were actually his fault? Two. That's right, two of Eli Manning's 27 interceptions last year were his fault. He threw an interception on 4.9 percent of his passes that year, an abysmally high number, especially for a Quarterback with such high prestige league-wide.
But, and there always is one, if you use the metric in which just two of his interceptions are his fault (which I firmly believe to be true), then his interception rate drops from 4.9 percent to a whopping 0.362 percent. That would put him ahead of Aaron Rodgers (2.1), his brother Peyton Manning (1.5), and even the league leader in this statistic for that year, Nick Foles, who had a 0.6 interception rate.
It's really important that we know just how many of a Quarterback's interceptions are actually his fault before judging him on that statistic.
Eli Manning played with the following wide receivers last year: Victor Cruz (double-teamed every game), Hakeem Nicks (zero touchdowns in what was supposed to be his breakout year), and Reuben Randle (wildly inconsistent and an above-average third Wide Receiver at best). That is the grand list of the New York Giants' 2013 receivers.
Meanwhile, Eli's older brother, Peyton, had three Pro Bowl wideouts (Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker), as well as a Pro Bowl Tight End ("Orange" Julius Thomas), and a Pro Bowl running back (Knowshon Moreno). The younger Manning had to settle for Brandon Myers at Tight End and Peyton Hillis at Running Back.
Hillis is perhaps the worst Running Back to start an NFL game in recent memory. Said Hillis after being signed by the Giants, "I stopped working out. I pretty much knew my NFL career was over, and I was living on my couch." Wow. That's not even a joke. The New York Giants starting Running Back for a lot of last season was working harder to get into shape than he was on actually scoring touchdowns. While Peyton Manning had Knowshon Moreno to hand-off to when in doubt, the younger Manning was handing the pigskin to a guy who had been signed off his couch, a guy who was still rounding himself into shape.
Offensive lines matter, too. That's why the loss of Chris Snee is so huge. Manning was sacked 39 times last season with Snee blocking for him. Imagine what the line will look like this year without him. Those 39 sacks are not an outlier; the offensive line is also a big reason why Manning threw so many interceptions. If I was him I'd throw the ball too to avoid being smashed by a 300-pound monster too. And as I said earlier, a lot if times when he threw the ball with pressure on him he threw to an open man, only to see the ball be tipped and intercepted.
The Giants brought in a new offensive coordinator in Ben McAdoo this offseason, to replace the fading Kevin Gilibride. McAdoo has said that Manning's goal for this year is to complete 70 percent of his passes. While implausible, this is not entirely impossible. (The most recent person to do it was then-49ers Quarterback Alex Smith, who was benched that same year.) I don't know whether Manning will have a bounce-back year or another 20-plus interception year, but I do know this: it's a make-or-break year for Eli Manning, and this year may just decide the rest of his career.