It's been well-documented that New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is struggling of late. All sorts of theories as to why have been thrown out there, including the one put forth by our buddy Greg Cosell on last Friday's Shutdown Corner matchup podcast -- Eli has a tired arm, and it's been a problem for a few weeks. A perfectly reasonable conclusion, though Manning doesn't agree.
Whatever the issue is, we assumed that we were past the point where people would question Manning's "elite" status. Apparently, we are not. After Manning went 29 of 46 for 215 yards, a 4.67 yards per attempt average, no touchdowns, two interceptions, and the worst Quarterback DYAR of the week per Football Outsiders, former Giants quarterback and current CBS analyst Phil Simms put forth the proposition that ... well, maybe Eli really isn't that good. Asked about Manning's place in the quarterback pantheon on the CBS Sports Network's "NFL Monday QB" show, Simms let loose.
"No, he is not one of the elites. Because when I hear the word elite, I'm thinking about guys that can make unbelievable plays on the field by themselves. There are very few quarterbacks in that category.
"I always bring up Aaron Rodgers. He is one of them. So yes, Eli has been a tremendous team player. He has been MVP of the Super Bowl twice. I know that. But the way I look at it, the answer is no."
Hmmm. Well, we're not sure what Simms categorizes as "elite," though Rodgers has had some pretty brutal stretches in his career, too. We need look no further than Rodgers' first three games of the 2012 season, when he threw just three touchdown passes versus two picks total against the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks. Admittedly, that's quite the Murderers' Row of pass defenses, but the point remains -- every great quarterback has bad times in his career, and Eli's just another prime example.
To question Manning's overall greatness at this point in his career borders on the ridiculous. He ranked seventh in FO's cumulative opponent-adjusted stats in 2011, and as far as the ability to make big plays on his own, we give you perhaps the single greatest throw in Super Bowl history -- his 38-yard completion to Mario Manningham that kick-started the Giants' game-winning drive in the most recent league championship game .
I was sitting in the press area of Lucas Oil Stadium at that point, watching the Giants start a drive from their own 12-yard line with 3:46 left in the game, and down, 17-15. What made me understand the greatness of Manning as a player at that point was the fact that all the football scribes around me were saying the same thing I was:
Eli's going to win this thing. It's just what he does.
And so, he did.
On the final Giants drive that ended in a touchdown, Manning was an obscene 5 for 6 for 74 yards. And as much as I don't like to espouse the whole "this guy is more than the sum total of his stats" argument most of the time, there's just something about Eli that makes it valid.
I recently asked Eli's father Archie about the qualities that make his younger quarterback son so damned good under the kinds of pressures that cause the majority of NFL quarterbacks to fold.
"One thing that's unique about Eli is that he doesn't have much ego," Manning the Elder said. "Sometimes you say, 'Well a quarterback has to have an ego,' and maybe so. But he doesn't go high, he doesn't go low -- he just loves to play. He doesn't mind work, and he loves playing for the New York Giants, I'll tell you that. I think it would kill him if he had to go play anywhere else. I think he just loves what he does, and he doesn't worry about too much. He kinda just goes to work and handles things. He just takes care of business."
It seems, I then said, that Eli's competitiveness is undersold because of that seemingly laid-back approach.
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"Yeah, I think people really do," Archie Manning responded. "He's just not as intense [as Peyton] -- it's more of a smooth level. When people are like that, people do underestimate their competitive fire."
Indeed. Is Eli Manning the NFL's best quarterback? Nobody would seriously consider that to be true. But to portray him as some sort of Alex Smith-style game manager who needs everything perfect around him before he can make plays, as Simms seems to have done, is flat-out wrong.
Then again, we could have saved the time it took to argue Eli's case by mentioning that Simms is the same guy who insisted that Andrew Luck couldn't make "big-time" NFL throws, and insisted that Ryan Mallett was an elite draft prospect.
"If he's not a top 10 player [in this draft], then I quit," Simms said of Mallett on SIRIUS NFL Radio in April of 2011, before going off on a really weird anti-stat rant.
For the record, Mallett was selected in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft by the New England Patriots.
We're waiting for your end of the bargain, Phil. Eli probably is, too.
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