The Giants haven’t scored thirty points in a game since week 17 of 2015 – Tom Coughlin’s last game as head coach.
What’s happened to the Giants offense throughout the last three seasons since then is truly hard to figure out.
Who or what is to blame for such a stagnant offense? Bad offensive line? Bad play-calling? Poor execution? It’s hard to ignore the fact that only one thing has remained constant in the years since Coughlin’s departure: quarterback Eli Manning.
Manning has a Hall-of-Fame resume, there is absolutely no doubt about that. He is going to finish his career in the top 10 in NFL history in touchdown passes and yards to go along with two Super Bowl MVP’s for a blue-blood franchise.
But when Coughlin walked out the door, something changed in the way Manning played quarterback.
Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur were tasked with “revitalizing” Manning. They both asked him to be more efficient, and set goals of a 70% completion percentage and fewer interceptions.
For his part, Manning complied. He tried to cut down on the interceptions and started throwing the safer, higher percentage pass.
Since 2015 Manning has achieved completion percentages of 62.6, 63, and 61.6, the best three-year stretch of his career.
But maybe, just maybe the quarterback who led the league in interceptions multiple times was never actually broken. Maybe throwing caution to the wind was who he was.
Maybe the refusal to give a damn about stats like completion percentage or interceptions is exactly what allowed him to complete a miraculous pass to David Tyree’s helmet with Rodney Harrison draped all over him in Super Bowl XLVII several plays after an interception slipped through Asante Samuel’s hands or what allowed him to make one of the greatest throws in Super Bowl history to Mario Manningham in 2011's rematch with New England.
He was fearless, sometimes to a fault, but he never failed for lack of trying and that attitude is why New York fell in love with the youngest member of football’s first family even though he didn’t have his brother’s remarkable stat-line.
His tape wasn't perfect; it was a beautiful mess. Eli is not Peyton--he never was or will be and that should have been just fine.
His never-back-down attitude has resulted in quite a few bad plays throughout his career, but it’s also been the catalyst for way more great plays especially in big moments when a lot of other quarterbacks would have folded under pressure.
In the years since Manning watched the head coach who had seen his transformation from a boy to a man say goodbye to the Giants organization, that never-back-down attitude has slowly morphed into a frustratingly cautious approach filled with check-downs and slant routes.
Whether it’s a product of an aging mental state, an abysmal offensive line, allowing himself to become a lab project for the coaches that replaced Coughlin, or a combination of all three is hard to say for sure.
One thing is certain, Manning is not consistently attempting the superhero play anymore. He appears to be content with just notmaking the big errors like he did in 2013 when he threw 27 interceptions playing on a bad team.
In Week 2 against Dallas Manning completed 75% of his passes for 279 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions.
Not bad right? It would be tough to read that stat-line and say the loss was his fault, as opposed to when he used to throw two to three interceptions in a game where the offensive was obviously struggling to move the ball.
But he used to not take those types of losses lying down, the interceptions were because he had to try to make something happen (obviously not all of the interceptions, but a significant amount).
Neither losing scenario was/is entirely (or at all) his fault. Manning hasn't had a lot of help the past few seasons--the Giants have had virtually no running game since 2012 when they had their last 1,000-yard rusher in Ahmad Bradshaw and they also led the league in dropped passes a year ago.
Their struggles on the offensive line have also been obvious.
But the fact that Manning consistently appears content to check it down to his running back rather than take any kind of chance down the field is what has so many wondering what happened to the Eli of old.
Saquon Barkley had 14 receptions against the Cowboys, double that of tight end Evan Engram’s second-best total of seven.
On all seven of the Giants’ third downs in the first half, Manning threw a pass that had to be caught short of the line to gain (unofficially).
His average completed pass this season is caught just 3.9 yards from the line of scrimmage.
Of course, some of this is not Manning’s fault. He was just running the plays Pat Shurmur called and his offensive line apparently forgot how to block a basic stunt rush.
But it’s frustrating nonetheless to see what has become of the man who once attempted to complete a touchdown pass with his opposite throwing arm.
Manning is still very much physically capable of winning games for the Giants. He proved that last year in week 16 against the Eagles when he threw 54 times for 434 yards and three touchdowns.
On Sunday night against Dallas, Manning got drilled by Jaylon Smith and immediately popped right back up to call the next play.
As far as his lack of mobility in the pocket, well, McDonald's is still serving hamburgers and water is still wet. It appears nothing has changed since 2004.
Throughout his career, Manning has always relied on his nifty footwork to avoid the rush.
While there have been times when his offensive line has made it impossible for anyone to get a throw off, even when he does have a bit of time Manning has not been as aggressive.
There is still plenty of time for Manning and the Giants to turn things around in 2018, but if they want to start winning again they are going to need their hall-of-fame quarterback and those around him to remember who he is and why he's been so successful in the past.