Commentary

The vastly underrated Eli Manning

The Giants' playcaller draws plenty of criticism, but fans aren't looking close enough

Originally Published: September 28, 2011
By Peter Keating | ESPN Insider
ManningRob Carr/Getty ImagesEli Manning has cut down on his turnovers this season for the New York Giants.

Across the back pages and radio dials in New York this week, Eli Manning ranks about ninth on the list of New York Giants heroes since Big Blue wrecked the Eagles on Sunday, someplace between rookie LB Jacquian Williams and Lawrence Taylor. (Although LT hasn't played in 18 years, he is on the top-10 list anytime anything good happens to the Giants.) But it's time to give credit where credit is due: With 254 yards on just 29 attempts, four touchdowns and no turnovers, Manning posted the third-best performance in the NFL last weekend (QBR of 81.2). And as surprising as it may seem, he continues to demonstrate value in ways that conventional statistics don't capture.

This season, 59.1 percent of NFL plays have been passes, up from 56.9 percent last year and 54.9 percent five years ago. And as passing continues to increase, there's a premium on what we call "ball discipline" -- avoiding sacks, fumbles and penalties. To see how each of these aspects of quarterback performance translates into value for teams, let's start with a specific comparison from last year: Eli versus Philip Rivers, the player he was traded for during the 2004 draft.

When Total QBR debuted, Manning's rating was a shocker. While he ranked just 17th in the NFL in passer rating in 2010, Eli had a QBR of 64.3, seventh-best in the league. Meanwhile, Rivers -- who threw for 708 more yards than Manning and had half as many interceptions led the NFL in yards per attempt and had a passer rating of 101.8 -- was just ninth in the league, with a QBR of 63.2.

But Manning's 2010 was better and Rivers' considerably worse than the raw numbers show. Rivers had a whopping 4,710 passing yards, but many of them came when the game was already decided. Last year, the Chargers outscored their opponents by an average of 20 points in their wins and won six games by three touchdowns or more, both by far the highest figures among all teams that won eight to 10 games.

In high-leverage situations (plays with clutch value above 1.0), Rivers was just slightly above average, with a QBR of 56, whereas his QBR was 80 in blowout conditions. Manning, on the other hand, was more efficient. QBR estimates that Manning's completions added 107.0 points to the Giants last year, or 2.67 points per 100 passing yards; Rivers' completions added 108.5 points, or 2.30 per 100 yards.


To read more about Eli Manning's true value -- plus why Michael Vick's running is huring the Ealges -- you must be an ESPN Insider.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.