Monday, 30 January 2012

Is Eli Elite?

Okay this may be an old question to ask.  But lets go back to the start of this season, when Eli Manning out of the blue asked the media to consider him as an elite quarterback - in the same breath as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Big Ben and his older brother Peyton. 

Go back to mid-November and many people would have laughed in his face if he asked the question again.  The Giants were on a six game losing skid with the Cowboys in pole position to win the NFC East and head to the playoffs.  Then the Cowboys self-destructed twice away at Arizona then at home to the Giants when from two winning positions they were the makers of their own downfall, admittedly that was a problem for the entire Cowboys season.  The Giants beat Dallas in the last game of the season to win the NFC East and give the Giants a home game to the Falcons.

Whilst the Giants blew out the Falcons 24-2, that was a more a help of the formidable Giants defense with a full personnel present for the first time all season and some horrible playcalling from the Falcons offense who chose to manage the clock with short gains instead of stretching the field over a Giants secondary that is not as good as their front four.

Eli then helped his elite question marks by going into Lambeau Field against the 15-1 Green Bay Packers who had a two week rest.  Like he did five years previously, Eli marched into the cold Lambeau and walked away with the win, thanks in part to some awful defending by the Packers secondary.  A telegraphed hail mary at the end of the first half was picked easily by Hakeem Nicks, with no pressure on the grab.

That performance was Eli's best in the playoffs.  The Conference championship match up against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park, was an old-fashioned defensive slugfest settled by two error by punt returner Kyle Williams who fumbled twice, the second time led to the game-winning field goal by Lawrence Tynes.  Manning was somewhat absent from the victory, although tellingly he did not throw an interception.

This goes in stark contrast to Tom Brady, who in the previous playoff match agains the Denver Broncos he threw 6 TDs, against the Baltimore Ravens he went for no TDs but 2 picks.  Unusual Brady numbers, but still Brady is at the Superbowl for the 5th time.

For me Brady is assured of a place in the Hall of Fame due to him winning 3 rings already, the most TDs thrown in one season.  For Eli Manning, his legacy is in real question come Sunday in the Superbowl at Indianapolis.

If Manning wins, he would have twice taken a 9-7 team to win the Superbowl. Manning won the Superbowl the first time in Arizona, his drive to win the game at the end when he hooked up with Plaxico Burress for the go ahead and winning TD was down to him.  People will remember the catch by David Tyree where he somehow kept held of the catch under double coverage, my memory is of Tedy Bruschi being unable to sack/tackle Manning who evaded the pocket pressure and was able to get the ball away as he had to because it was 3rd down.  You must remember Tyree made the catch look good, the throw was god awful.

Now five years since, he has improved most significantly since the defeat at home to Seattle Seahawks when he threw a pick 6 in the last two minutes when they were seeking to go ahead, it led to a 97 yard interception return which lost the game.  However, no other QB has led more fourth quarter comebacks and victories than Manning. Manning is the go to QB on third down.  Manning is getting results with a limited field of targets - apart from Nicks, Mario Manningham and breakout star, Victor Cruz; he has maybe Jacobs and Bradshaw running underneath or catching for the short yardage gains.  One big play at Green Bay was a short four yard catch by Ahmad Bradshaw that became a 18 yard gain that led to the hail mary and the lead at halftime, and a huge momentum shift.

Plus with Manning he is playing hard.  He dropped back 56 times in San Francisco, meaning he wants either more time in the pocket or wants to release the ball quickly - yet he got hit 20 odd times, sacked six times yet he keeps getting up and delivering.  So New England can try and hit him, if he can avoid the collision but he will play hurt and remain the leader.

To be elite, you have to be the focal point of the team.  You have to lead by example.  When they went under .500 for the season, there was no sense of alarm by Manning who had to endure a period without many targets, hence why Cruz has come to the fore and without much of a running game.

Personally, for Eli to be elite he has to beat Brady again.  Then he can be considered one of the top 5 QBs in the league along with Brady, Rodgers, Brees and Big Ben (all have won a ring), and join Brady and Big Ben as the only active QB with two rings.  He will also be considered better, even greater, than Peyton because Eli will still have another five to seven years to add to his own legacy with the Giants who will remain a threat in a competitive division.  Whereas, Peyton may not play again for the Colts and will certainly not enjoy the freedom he enjoyed in Indy anywhere else.  Peyton will have to follow a playbook, and not run the show.  At the moment, it looks like Eli is calling the shots and happily Tom Coughlin is letting him do it, so long as it pays dividends.

So is Eli elite? At this moment, he is a SuperBowl winning quarterback who is achieving great things without too many weapons.  Whereas Brady, is the man with a great slot receiver in Wes Welker and two freaks in the form of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez - two men who will have a big say in the outcome of Sunday's result.

Unfortunately, for Eli whatever the result come Sunday he will still be seeking an answer to this question.  It seems to be a shame that he is alive in a time of great quarterbacks and peers; yet he will certainly go down fighting for the cause - so if you judge eliteness by competitiveness and hunger, Eli would certainly be high on the list.

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