Sunday, December 21, 2008

Breaking the news: Sports edition


I had promised a data-backed piece on Eli Manning, so here goes. A couple of things I’d like to state before we proceed:
1) This is not a rant against Eli; it is against the so-called experts who write about him;
2) Eli is having a decent season, but it is laughable to call it a great, MVP-caliber, or even a Pro-Bowl-caliber season.

That having been said, let me mention, by way of example, some of the Eli-related journalistic plugs that have popped up in the past week or so. First, there’s this piece on how Eli finished 2nd in the MVP balloting amongst eight ESPN bloggers---these are the guys who cover the various NFL divisions and get paid by ESPN to write about them every week, so they are presumably experts. Well, their writings contribute to public opinion, at any rate. Then there’s this article by Sporting News’ NFL writer Vinnie Iyer where he puts Eli second in his NFC pro-bowl ballot---as a reward for Eli body of work---and I quote--- over the past two seasons, including the Super Bowl. Finally, there this Sporting News article naming Eli Manning SN’s Pro Athlete of the Year for 2008. Seriously. No, really. I cannot make this shit up.

Anyway, this is just an easily-obtained sampling of the general assessment of Eli Manning by many, if not most, sports reporters and analysts. As you can see from magazine articles (including the aforementioned ones) or hear on radio or TV (although my sampling size in the latter media is hardly extensive), there is this perception that Eli Manning was primarily responsible for the Giants’ Super Bowl run last year and for their continued success this year (he was, in a way, but not in the way you might think). Furthermore, there is this growing consensus that Eli is now an elite QB---one worthy of ProBowl selection and of MVP consideration. This idea is so absurd that I feel compelled to refute it. I realize that Eli is the QB of a historic franchise in arguably the biggest media market in the world and is also the scion of a famous quarterbacking clan. So there is an understandable urge in the media to hope for the Great All-American Family of Excellence Story. But the urge to fabricate that story around dubious facts?----Well, someone’s gotta smack that shit in the face with a fistful of reason. And in the apparent absence of any takers, I had to step up to be that someone.

So let us look at some numbers, shall we? (BTW, all the stats that I provide have been obtained from and For rankings, I referred to pages like this from the rankings are for QBs who averaged at least 14 pass attempts per game, i.e. regulars. Also, 2008 numbers are through 14 games)

Since his first full year (in 2005) as starting QB for the NYGiants Eli Manning has been, by any measurable statistic, a mediocre QB. Here are his stats in all key categories.

YEAR COMPLETION%/ (NFL rank) QB RATING/ (NFL rank) TDs thrown/ (NFL Rank) INTs thrown/ (NFL rank; 1st is worst)
2005 52.8 (31st of 34) 75.9 (23rd of 34) 24 (7th of 34) 17 (2nd of 34)
2006 57.7 (21st of 32) 77.0 (18th of 32) 24 (6th of 32) 18 (4th of 32)
2007 56.1 (29th of 33) 73.9 (25th of 33) 23 (11th of 33) 20 (1st of 33)
2008 60.3 (19th of 32) 86.4 (16th of 32) 20 (10th of 32) 10 (18th of 32)

As you can see, the only category where Eli has ever cracked the top 5 is the one category where you DON’T want to be in the top as a QB---Interceptions thrown.

Note also that 2008 is Eli’s best year by far---when his overall QB rating has soared to a dizzying, career-best, 16th of 32 ranked QBs! I mean, talk about fucking mediocre!

What many people have chosen to forget about Eli is that not only did he throw more INTs than most but he threw crippling INTs. Not that there are good INTs but, you know, some are just worse than others. Anyway, in 2007 the Giants defense ranked 7th in the league for fewest yards allowed but only ranked 17th in the league for fewest points allowed. When a D allows a far greater proportion of points than would be predicted by the allowed yards, it implies that the opposition is the beneficiary of good field position. When you consistently give up good field position to the opposition, you either have horrible special teams or you have a serious turnover problem. Not surprisingly the Giants ranked a bad 26th of 32 teams in the takeaway/giveaway ratio in 2007 ---Eli ranked 1st in most INTs thrown, the offense lost 14 of 26 fumbles, and while it isn‘t clear how many of those were Eli‘s, the stats do show that Eli was responsible for 13 of the team‘s 26 fumbles.

By comparison in 2008, the Giants D ranks 6th in the league in fewest yards allowed (similar to 2007) and 4th in fewest points allowed (a bit different from 2007, eh?). Not coincidentally, Eli has only thrown 10 INTs, the offense has lost only 3 fumbles all year and the Giants rank 3rd best in the league in the Takeaway/Giveaway ratio. More significantly, while the Giants passing game is producing about the same yards (210.2 yds/game in 2008 vs. 211 yds/game in 2007) and their running game is producing somewhat better (148.7 yds/game in 2008 vs. 134.3 yds/game in 2007), the Giants offense ranks 4th in the league in total points and 8th in total yards in 2008 compared to 14th in total points and 16th in total yards in 2007.
(Giants 2007 stats here, and 2008 stats here)

Amazing what happens when you don’t turn the ball over huh? And that, in a nutshell, is why Eli is getting all the love. It’s not that he’s raised his QBing to great heights a la Montana or Marino or even his own brother Peyton. Eli finally stopped fucking up!
And that was basically why the Giants succeeded in their playoff run last year---Eli didn’t have significantly better numbers in the 2007 postseason than he did before; he had basically the same mediocre numbers. In the 2007 postseason Eli completed 60.5% of his passes, threw for 213.5 yards/game, and averaged 1.5 TDs thrown per game. But herre's the key stat---he threw only one INT in four games. This is doubtless creditable, but it is hardly great. The Giants win in the Super Bowl was due primarily to its ferocious defense that physically dominated the game. They held the highest-scoring offense in NFL history to 14 points. Yes, Eli did lead a drive in the end to give the Giants the lead, but that was not a high-efficiency surgical drive that is the stuff of Montana legend. Indeed, the signature play in that drive was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime catch by David Tyree that answered an Eli Manning Hail Mary prayer. Eli wasn’t without credit in the postseason and the SuperBowl, but the Super Bowl MVPs were, in order, the Giants D-line, David Tyree, and then Eli.

But for whatever reason, the bar for Eli is low when it comes to most in the media. For him apparently, not fucking up equals greatness.

One last thing---people come up with arguments like the “Stats aren’t everything, there are intangibles to the QB position”. To them I present QBs who have far fewer weapons at their disposal than Eli but have lead their teams to impressive success with modest individual stats (although these guys do have better overall ratings than Eli!), but who yet do not get as much pub and accolades as Eli does. Qbs like Matt Ryan---a rookie who stepped into a horrendous situation in Atlanta and has them at an impressive winning record while playing in an NFC South division where no team has a losing record--- and Chad Pennington, who stepped into an equally horrible situation in Miami and has them contending for the lead in their division.

I could go on---with examples and with stats. But I’ll stop here. Eli may yet turn into a great QB. But in his career thus far he has done nothing extraordinary. He has been surrounded by a great team with pro-bowl talent at every offensive position. He finally stopped holding his team back.

But hey, if and when Eli ever makes the top five in QB rating for the year, the media will probably be clamoring for him to be first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.


Print this post

No comments: