At 6-4, the Giants go into the bye week with the most precarious division lead in the NFC. After jumping out to a 6-2 start (stop me if you’ve heard this before), they have lost two in a row to shrink their margin of error to 1 game over the Cowboys.
One of the most troubling things about the team’s recent swoon has been the struggles of the offense, and particularly Eli Manning. After having thrown for 200 or more yards in 24 straight games prior to his week 6 performance against the 49ers, Eli has now thrown for fewer than 200 yards in 3 of his last 5 games. This comes after the Giants’ passing offense looked like perhaps the best in the NFL through the first half of the season.
So what changed? Much of the focus has been on Eli supposedly having a tired arm, but his passes don’t seem to have any less velocity than they did early in the year (and he himself has denied this). Part of the explanation is that the defenses have gotten better. The first half of the season included games against Tampa Bay, Carolina, Washington and Cleveland, who are all in the bottom half of the league in terms of passing defense. The start of Eli’s current swoon has been generally identified as week 8 when he threw for only 192 yards in Dallas, but he threw for only 213 against that same team in the first game of the year. And despite the blowout victory, Eli had a far from stellar game against San Francisco (and their 2nd ranked pass defense), completing only 53% of his passes and compiling 193 yards.
The only game where Eli played worse than he did in San Francisco was home against the Steelers, the 1st ranked pass defense in the NFL. In that game, he had a completion percentage (41%) and yardage total (125) that set season totals by a wide margin. His struggles in Cincinnati were a bit more surprising, as the Bengals have a roughly league-average pass defense. But a lot of that performance can be attributed to factors other than Eli. Hakeem Nicks has been hobbled for weeks and had a very sub-par game. Victor Cruz, who surprisingly leads the league in drops, didn’t provide the security blanket he usually does. And an offensive line that had only allowed 8 sacks all year to that point gave up 4 in one game. Not to mention that the Bengals jumped out to a 14 point lead, forcing the Giants to pass early and often and the Bengals to rush the quarterback without much threat of the run.
All that is to say that my answer to the question of “what’s wrong with Eli?” is “probably nothing.” Eli has proven himself too reliable for too long to expect his recent struggles to continue, and the week off should prove invaluable time for his receiving core, particularly Nicks, to return to something close to full strength. If it doesn’t, then upcoming games against Green Bay, New Orleans, Washington and Baltimore and their poor pass defenses should. One way or another, expect the old-Eli to return after the bye.