Stop comparing Eli Manning and start appreciating his accomplishments

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning signals during his first series of downs against the New England Patriots in the first quarter at Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis. The NFC champion New York Giants play the AFC champion New England Patriots. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

Eli Manning will never be a prototypical gunslinger. He’ll never be Dan Marino, Brett Favre or Warren Moon. He’s not Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or his brother either.

And that bothers you. But for a moment, let’s stop to appreciate what Eli has been able to accomplish since arriving to the NFL in 2004. Let’s stop trying to compare him to his brother and Brady (who Eli has now beaten twice in the Super Bowl), and every other quarterback who may have better passing numbers, more touchdowns and/or a better personality.

For once, let’s appreciate Eli Manning for the elite quarterback he is.

Kevin Gilbride’s system is one of the more complex offenses in the NFL. The wideouts in this system have to learn how to read coverages and even adjust mid-route, which makes it a rather difficult offense to master for even veteran receivers like Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz. And just think about how long it took Eli Manning to not only feel comfortable running the offense, but also winning it in.

While the system is often referred to as “quarterback-friendly,” that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to learn. On the contrary: Manning struggled mightily in his first couple of seasons and he barely showed any improvement from year to year because Gilbride’s system can be demanding and frustrating to pick up. That led to even the staunchest Eli supporters wondering if he was the right man to lead the Giants to greatness. But once he mastered the prolific system, he started to thrive in its beauty.

Manning can now come to the line during a given play, read what coverage the defense is in and understand that he has options on where to throw the ball. Look at that unbelievable throw to Manningham in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Manningham wasn’t Eli’s first read on that play. He wasn’t even his second. Manning saw a small window in which to fit the ball in between two defensive backs that were a second to slow in getting to where they were supposed to be. And he dropped that perfectly placed pass into Manningham’s hands as the receiver took care of the rest.

If his receivers adjust, Manning must adjust as well and when the Giants are firing on all cylinders they’re tough to stop. Not every quarterback can run Eli’s offense so why must we compare his play to that of Peyton, Brees or Brady’s? Why can’t we just marvel at the success he’s had to this point?

That success, by the way, translates to two Super Bowl rings. And just because Eli has collected one more Lombardi Trophy than his brother doesn’t mean that he’s on the same level as Peyton, who has four MVP awards over his sparkling career.

When you’re talking about different offenses, different personnel, and different competition, you’re comparing apples to oranges at the end of the day. Everyone wants to lump quarterbacks into one big pile and discuss “who is the best,” but it’s a frivolous debate. Would you compare Jim Brown and Barry Sanders? Hell no – it’s two different running styles. So why are we so determined to compare quarterbacks?

If I don’t hear another Eli vs. Peyton discussion the rest of my life I’d be a saner person. For once, I just want to appreciate what Eli Manning has accomplished and know that not every quarterback is on his level.

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Super Bowl XLVI: Three keys to victory for the Giants

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) throws against the New England Patriots third quarter at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on November 6, 2011. The Giants defeated the Patriots 24-20. UPI/Matthew Healey

On Thursday I’ll discuss the three keys for the Patriots to win Super Bowl XLVI but today, let’s take a look at the Giants.

1. Pressure Brady with their four down linemen.
If I’ve written it once I’ve written it one hundred times: The key to beating any elite quarterback whether it’s Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, is to pressure him with your four down linemen. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady’s completion percentage this season when blitzed is 62.6. That number rises to 67.3 percent when he isn’t blitzed and 70.6 when he receives no pressure at all. But when he’s under pressure, his completion percentage falls to 48.6 and his QB rating falls to 88.8 (compared to 110.1 when he’s not under pressure and 115.3 when he’s blitzed). Blitzing can be an effective tool for any defense, but top quarterbacks will burn teams that rely on the blitz as their sole means of creating pressure. That’s one of the reasons why the Giants have had success against Brady in the last two meetings between these two teams. New York uses four defensive ends in passing situations, which is an advantage that no other team in the league possesses. Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks), Justin Tuck (5 sacks), Osi Umenyiora (9 sacks in just nine games) and Dave Tollefson (five sacks) can line up at the same time because Pierre-Paul and Tuck have the ability to play inside. The Giants also have the option of playing a combination of three of those ends with Mathias Kiwanuka (3.5 sacks), who is a highly versatile role player. So while other keys will certainly factor into a New York victory on Sunday, perhaps nothing is more vital than the Giants’ ability to rush Brady with their four down linemen and drop everyone else back into coverage. New York’s defense was built to do one thing: Get after the quarterback. If the Giants don’t pressure Brady on Sunday, they’ll have a hell of a time beating the Patriots again.

2. Manning needs to avoid turnovers.
When it comes to the Giants, the difference between winning and losing often comes down to one stat: Turnovers, or more specifically, Eli Manning’s turnovers. When Manning didn’t turn the ball over this season, the Giants were 6-0. When he turned the ball over only once during a game, the Giants were 5-2. When he turned the ball over two or more times, the Giants were 0-5. Simply put, the Giants don’t lose when Eli protects the football. When he doesn’t, it’s hard for this team to carry him when he’s making mistake after mistake. (This is one of the many reasons why I keep saying that without Eli’s play this season, the Giants wouldn’t have even made the playoffs.) Sunday will be no different. If Manning makes good decisions and doesn’t give Brady and Co. opportunities to score with a short field (or, conversely, take away potential points for the Giants), New York has an outstanding chance of winning. When Eli is on point he can be as good as anyone in the league from an efficiency standpoint. When he starts turning the ball over it’s as if his entire game falls apart. He’s more careless, he starts throwing off his back foot and his pocket presence flies out the window. The Redskins’ 23-10 victory over the Giants in Week 15 of the regular season is a perfect example of how quickly things can go south for New York if Eli struggles.

3. Attack, attack, attack.
Kevin Gilbride deserves a lot of credit for developing the most underrated passing attack in the league. People love to wax poetically about New Orleans, New England and Green Bay’s passing games but what about New York’s? Thanks to Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham’s, I would put the Giants’ passing attack up against any other team’s in the league outside of maybe the aforementioned Saints, Patriots and Packers. That said, it wasn’t too long ago that New York fans were screaming for Gilbride’s head because the offensive coordinator was being too conservative when it came to his play calling and his approach inside the red zone. When the Giants would get inside the 20, Gilbride would often take his foot off the gas and New York’s offense would get bogged down. Thus, it’s important for Gilbride to continue to attack through the air. The Patriots have a slew of young defensive backs playing in their first Super Bowl, including a safety in Patrick Chung that struggled in pass coverage last week versus Baltimore. Although New England has played much better defensively over the past couple of weeks, the Giants have a huge edge when it comes to their receivers being matched up against the Patriots’ defensive backs. Now isn’t the time for Gilbride to rest on his laurels and hold his passing game back. New England’s front seven is good against the run, so the Giants need to dance with the date that brought them.

Five ’08 NFL playoff teams with issues heading into ’09

Vinnie Iyer of did an interesting piece on five NFL playoff teams who have big issues heading into the 2009 season.

Ray Lewis1) Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco has had a great start to his career, but to take the next step as a quarterback, he probably could use a young receiver with No. 1 potential. The more pressing issues, however, are with Baltimore’s backbone, its defense. First, it’ll be a challenge to find a coordinator and play-caller to match Rex Ryan, who left to become head coach of the New York Jets…

2) Philadelphia Eagles. To some extent, the Donovan McNabb question was answered, at least for the ’09 season. His support system may be different, however. Aging offensive tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan will be free agents. Top guard Shawn Andrews will need to come back from back surgery, and also may need to move outside. Backup running back Correll Buckhalter also wants to explore options out of Philadelphia. Defensively, stalwart safety Brian Dawkins could also walk…

3) Carolina Panthers. Will Carolina need to address the quarterback position after Jake Delhomme’s six-turnover fiasco against Arizona in the divisional playoffs? It seems unfair to judge Delhomme on his first truly bad playoff game, when his play and leadership has been huge for the Panthers in the big picture. But still, with his age (34) and the fact he’s just one year removed from major elbow surgery, it might be time to draft a project passer to groom. In addition, Delhomme’s Pro Bowl left tackle, Jordan Gross, can become an unrestricted free agent….

4) Indianapolis Colts. Tony Dungy and general manager Bill Polian were hoping for a smooth coaching transition with Jim Caldwell taking over, but it hasn’t been necessarily easy in the early going. Offensive coordinator Tom Moore, 70, and offensive line coach Howard Mudd, 66, nearly opted to follow Dungy into retirement. Defensive coordinator Ron Meeks flat-out resigned on Tuesday, and Caldwell fired special teams coach Russ Pernell. Caldwell isn’t a Dungy clone — there will be a different feel around the team….

5) New York Giants. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo left to be head coach of the Rams, and there’s a chance offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride gets the same gig with the Raiders. The unit that Gilbride may leave behind has plenty of issues…

Iyer goes into more detail on every team, so check out the entire piece.

I agree on all of Iyer’s takes, although these problems are nothing new for any playoff team. Good teams have their coordinators stripped from them to become head coaches in other cities. Star players in contract years bolt for bigger paydays elsewhere, while other standouts get another year older or slower.

All five of the above teams have the potential to face major change and that’s what makes them a risk not to make a repeat playoff appearance next year. The most interesting team is the Ravens because they have so many questions to answer about their defense, which has been their identity the past eight or nine years.

NFL Divisional Round Preview

Before I get to my Divisional Round Preview, I’d like to send all of the losers from Wild Card Weekend off the only way I know how: By jabbing them one final time.

Atlanta Falcons: Hey Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey, his name is Jerious Norwood. He’s #32 and he’s one of the best playmakers on your offense. Might want to think about using him more the next time an opposing defense figures out how to shut down Michael Turner.

Indianapolis Colts: Seven trips to the postseason in the last seven years and you only manage one Super Bowl appearance with a three-time MVP at quarterback? Dear Barbara…

Miami Dolphins: Chad, I love you man and I love your story this season. But you can’t force passes down field into double coverage and expect good things. You should have kept doing what you did all season and what you did in your first possession of the game – hit the high-percentage passes and let your receivers get the yardage.

Minnesota Vikings: Did anyone else scratch their head when Brad Childress declined a holding penalty on third down early in the first quarter that would have moved the Eagles on the edge of field goal range? Instead, it brought up forth down and David Akers drilled a 43-yarder to give Philly a 3-0 lead. Childress basically said, “I’m not sure if my defense can hold the Eagles on 3rd and 14 – better give up the field goal so we don’t give up a potential touchdown instead.” You never give your opponents points in the playoffs. Never. Not even a field goal. Force them back, force them to make a play and force them to earn the points.

Myself: I went 1-3 with my Wild Card Predictions last week. Seriously? You went with the Colts in the playoffs? A rookie in Matt Ryan? The Vikings over everyone’s sleeper team in the Eagles? You’re a freaking bum. (Ironically I went 3-1 in a family football pool because I came to my senses and picked San Diego and Philly.)

Moving on…

Chris JohnsonBaltimore Ravens (11-5) at Tennessee Titans (13-3)
Saturday, January 10, 4:30PM ET
Opening Odds: Titans –3
Over/Under: 34.5
Game Outlook:
No disrespect to the Giants and Eagles or any other team playing this weekend, but this is easily the best matchup on the divisional playoff schedule. Did you see what Ed Reed and the Ravens did to Chad Pennington and the Dolphins last week? They held them to only 276 total yards, forced five turnovers and surrendered only 52 rushing yards. And although they used a lot of gadget formations throughout the season, it’s not like Miami’s offense was a dud this year. Granted, the Titans have the seventh best rushing attack in the league and rookie Chris Johnson brings an added dimension to the field, but Mike Heimerdinger has his hands full this week trying to come up with a game plan to move the ball against a Baltimore defense allowing just over 15 points a game this season. That said, it’ll be interesting to see how rookie quarterback Joe Flacco does against the seventh best defense in the NFL. Flacco passed with flying colors last week while playing mistake-free and running for the game-clinching score in the fourth quarter. But he’ll have to do a hell of a lot more than complete 9 of 23 passes for 135 yards against a Tennessee defense that could have DT Albert Haynesworth and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch back on their defensive line. If both players are in the lineup Saturday, Flacco is going to feel the heat up the middle and from the edges so he better get rid of the ball in a timely manner. Overall, this is the best defensive matchup of the year and this game will probably come down to who doesn’t turn the ball over.
X-Factor: Chris Johnson, Titans RB
The only time the Dolphins found success last week was when they used the Ravens’ aggressive style against them and slipped backs out in the flats. Pennington was able to hit Patrick Cobbs and company for seven to 10 yard gains and the Titans could employ the same method. Johnson is a homerun threat and more than capable of taking one to the house every play. Tennessee has to get the ball in this kid’s hands and force the Ravens to miss tackles in the open field, which they have the penchant for doing at times.
Prediction: Titans 16, Ravens 13.
I’m not going to bite on this potential upset. The Ravens’ defense is absolutely nasty, but Flacco worries me against a ball-hawking Tennessee secondary and I think the Titans are going to shut down Baltimore’s running game. This game comes down to which team makes fewer mistakes and I’ll take a veteran in Kerry Collins over the rook Flacco. (Word to the wise though, Kerry – stay away from Ed Reed’s side if you can.)

Read the rest after the jump...

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