What's wrong with Giants' quarterback Eli Manning?

New York Giants' Eli Manning drops back to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

After a promising 2-0 start, the New York Giants have lost three straight games. So, the natural question is, who’s to blame? There’s no shortage of possible scapegoats. The defensive line has struggled to produce a pass rush, recording only four sacks through five games, and was essentially nonexistent last week against the Packers, allowing Aaron Rodgers a league-leading 3.39 seconds per pass while recording only one quarterback hit. The high-priced secondary has been riddled with injuries, forcing players like Trevin Wade into action, who was torched for over 100 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings in Week 4. The offensive line, especially left tackle Ereck Flowers, is vulnerable and far too penalty-prone. The ground game has been inconsistent at best, despite some promising moments from rookie Paul Perkins.

No one player, however, has struggled as much as quarterback Eli Manning. Through five games, Manning has simply not looked like himself, missing wide open receivers and appearing uncharacteristically hesitant in the pocket. This was especially evident on Sunday night, when Eli misfired to an open Odell Beckham Jr. on a crucial third down, overthrew a wide open Will Tye on a would-be touchdown and consistently threw behind receivers all night.

The difference between Manning’s performance in wins and losses has been staggering. In the Giants’ two victories to begin the year, Manning completed 74 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and one interception. In the three losses since, his completion percentage has plummeted to 58 percent, along with two touchdowns and three interceptions, as well as three fumbles. While that kind of production can be excused against the nearly impenetrable Vikings defense, Washington’s defense is exploitable to say the least, and Green Bay was without their starting two cornerbacks.

It’s not as if Eli is lacking weapons, either. Odell Beckham Jr. is, well, Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz has been a solid playmaker in his return and rookie Sterling Shepard has shown early signs of a star in the making.

So what’s wrong with Eli Manning? Even a Giants fan like myself can admit that Eli’s decision making in the pocket can be shaky at times. He throws too many interceptions and puts the ball on the ground too often when hit. However, this season, turnovers have not been the issue.

Through five games, Manning has thrown only four interceptions. This puts him on pace for about 13 picks on the season, which would be his fewest total since 2008, when he was named Super Bowl MVP. While his fumbles have increased, more than half have been recovered by the Giants. Just by watching the games, it’s clear that Eli has shown sound decision making: seeing open targets and rarely challenging double coverage. He is simply missing receivers.  

So if it’s not turnovers, then what’s the issue? Well for one, Eli is feeling the rush before it arrives. The last two years of weak offensive lines have appeared to mess with Manning’s mental clock, as he is getting rid of the ball faster than ever before. Against the Vikings, Manning averaged 2.37 seconds to throw, according to Pro Football Focus, over a full second less than Rodgers did on Sunday. While the Giants receiving corps is talented, it’s difficult to find space or get downfield in such a short time frame.

Yes, the offensive line has struggled, but Eli has seemingly lost all faith in its protection. The Giants have allowed ten sacks on the season, which is only the 18th most in the league, and below the league average. More interestingly, they’ve given up only 16 quarterback hits, per NFL.com, which is the second-fewest in the entire league. In other words, the moment Eli feels pressure, he is unloading the ball.

Throughout each of the five games, Eli has repeatedly thrown the ball into the ground as he feels the pocket collapsing, or immediately dumped it off to the checkdown option. This is obviously more desirable than an interception, but you would rather Eli wait a few milliseconds longer to allow his star receivers to get open.

The offensive line problems have been compounded by defensive strategy. When playing the Giants, defenses are frequently adopting the Cover-2 defense, against which Eli struggled. In this scheme, the defense drops two safeties deep, essentially taking away the deep pass routes which Eli and Beckham Jr. feast on. Typically, the Cover-2 defense can be broken with a strong ground game, as it forces the safeties to move up. With an ineffective offensive line and an injured running back corps, the Giants have yet to break it.

The Giants’ offensive struggles do not begin and end with their quarterback. The offensive line has been abysmal, and the ground game must pick up to take some pressure off the pass. However, Manning must start hitting open receivers and standing tall in the pocket, or the Giants will be looking at another long season.

Andrew Morrison is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at andrew.morrison@uconn.edu.