For the third straight game, Eli Manning of the New York Giants has played in a way that leaves no other description but to say that he has been consistently and confusingly bad. He's been outright terrible at times, and nobody seems to know what the problem is. In his last three games, Manning has completed just 54 of 99 passes (a 54.5 completion rate), 532 yards, no touchdowns, and four interceptions.
His 5.37 yards per attempt, were it to play out over a full season, would put him more than half a yard per attempt lower than the league's worst qualifying quarterback in that category, Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert. The Giants are 1-2 in those games, and Manning looked especially bad in Sunday's 31-13 loss to the Cicinnati Bengals.
During our weekly podcast with Greg Cosell of NFL Films and ESPN's "NFL Matchup," Cosell gave his take on Manning's woes, based on his own sources -- including former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski, who works with Cosell on the Matchup show.
"Ron Jaworski and I were having this conversation this week," Cosell said. "I looked at Eli's tape on Monday, and Jaws looked at Eli's tape on Wednesday. He made a really interesting comment, and it really struck me and I would defer to Jaws on this, because I've never taken snaps in the NFL. He said that it looks to him like Eli's arm is a little tired, and that he's not driving the ball at the intermediate and deeper levels the way we've come to expect, because Eli has a strong arm.
"We got that confirmed by someone who's a lot closer to the situation -- that his arm's a little bit tired right now. He's missed some throws that he would normally make, because the Giants are a downfield passing team. They'll check it down when necessary, but this is not a dink-and-dunk passing game. They attack coverages really well with route combinations at intermediate and deeper levels, and those plays have been missing over the last four weeks.
"When Jaws made that comment, I went back and looked at some throws, and now that I have some new information in my head, I kinda said, 'Wow -- I think that's pretty valid."
Asked about that very issue after the Bengals loss, Manning said that he's experiencing no specific physical malady.
"I'm still making the throws and I don't feel like it's tired," he said of his arm. "If my arm were tired, I would tell the coaches and we would adjust. I don't feel like we are overthrowing by any means, and the ball is still coming out fine, so I don't see anything into it."
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said that he's asked Manning how he feels over the last couple of weeks, and received nothing but positive responses in return.
"I still believe that Eli will bounce back and will play the way that he has played at a championship level," Coughlin said of the two-time Super Bowl MVP. "I certainly don't quite understand where we are and why."
Whatever the problem is, it's very clear that Manning is not connecting on explosive plays as he has before. In his last three games, per ESPN's Stats & Info, he's just 2 for 11 for 44 yards and no touchdowns on passes over 10 yards targeting Victor Cruz, his primary deep threat. In New York's first seven games, Manning hit Cruz on 13 of 22 such attempts for 335 yards and three touchdowns.
Manning has been through rough patches before in his career, and he believes that he can turn it around.
"I'm not worried," he said. "Over the years, we've gone through stretches where we haven't played our best football, and we've been able to bounce out of that. We can fix it."
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