I wanted to post my review of yesterday’s two exhilarating championship games so it was ready to be read this morning. However, as I watched the Giants run around Candlestick Park in jubilation, I was fuming. It’s bad enough that the despised Giants were once again playing for the Super Bowl. But to me, the most irritating part of the day was having almost everything I predicted two days earlier come true, only to STILL have both of my picks lose in fluky fashion. Instead of writing angry, I decided to switch off the celebration, watch the Wire, and sleep on it. So I sat down this morning with my laptop, flipped on Sportscenter…and was immediately greeted with a chorus of analysts singing the praises of one Eli Manning, and how he is such an “elite” quarterback. So much for not writing angry…
Before I throw a fit and start throwing things, I’m going to try to present a legitimate rational argument as to why Eli Manning does not belong in the elite quarterback conversation with players such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and his brother Peyton. First, I’m going to dismiss the Super Bowl argument. It’s proven that time and time again, that if a team has a dominant defense that it can get away with mediocre quarterback play and win a title. It’s why the list of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks includes the likes of Trent Dilfer, Jim Mcmahon, Brad Johnson, and yes, Eli Manning. But a Super Bowl win alone doesn’t make a guy elite so let’s take a peek at the other numbers.
I will preface this by saying I think that Eli Manning had a fantastic season in 2011; it was easily his best year and I was repeatedly impressed by how he covered up for a shaky offensive line and poor secondary on the defensive side. This praise doesn’t come easily for me, as you will soon see. But even in his best season, Eli still threw 16 interceptions. The younger Manning has played seven full seasons now; he has thrown more than 15 interceptions in FIVE of those seasons, and the other two he was in double digits as well. The trio of Brees, Brady, and Rodgers have thrown 15 or more interceptions a COMBINED THREE times over the same time span, with all three coming from Brees. Taking care of the football is one of the most important qualities at the quarterback position in my opinion; turnovers often lead to losses, and turnovers in playoff games are usually fatal. Eli has had a passer rating higher than 90 only twice – this season and 2009, when he posted a career high 93.1 rating. Over the last seven seasons, Brady has dipped BELOW a 90 passer rating ONCE, Brees TWICE with a low rating of 89.4, and Rodgers has NEVER had a passer rating lower than 93.8! Simply put Eli does NOT belong in the company of the truly elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and I’m tired of the hyperbole that seems mandatory whenever Eli wins a big game. It’s as if they are so surprised that he didn’t LOSE the game, that he must have been brilliant in order to win it.
By my count, Eli threw at least FIVE balls that should’ve been intercepted last night. As the Niners front seven terrorized him all day, he repeatedly threw ball after ball up for grabs. On two occasions, the throw was so awful that TWO Niners had chances to intercept the ball and collided instead. On another occasion, the Niner defender slipped and fell as the ball headed right at him. Another time, a Niners defensive back made the common mistake of not turning his head to catch the ball thrown right at him. Simply by catching HALF the passes that Eli tried to throw them last night, San Francisco could have blown out the Giants, and we’d be comparing Eli more to Jake Delhomme than his brother Peyton. Eli even fumbled in the pocket, and was fortunate enough to have the ball recovered by one of his offensive linemen. But the margin of error is slim in the NFL, and instead we need to endure two weeks of conversation about the REMATCH of the Giants/Patriots, and if Eli wins, has he had a better career than his brother? Are people put of their minds? Was I the only person that saw this last night?? I’m starting to think I’m crazy and that somehow I’m seeing the games from a different viewing angle, or even a different planet. Even in Eli’s “clutch” game winning drive in the Giants’ Super Bowl win, he had two interceptions dropped, including one by the normally sure handed Asante Samuel. Somehow, this is never mentioned since it was Eli’s clutchness that won a Super Bowl. Yes, I just invented a word in my exasperated state. Eli Manning has become a GOOD quarterback, but just because he’s the world’s biggest luck box doesn’t make him elite. Yet, I’m scratching my eyes out at the thought of him sealing that label by torching a New England secondary that gave up 300 yard games to the likes of Chad Henne, Vince Young, and Dan Orlovsky. I can’t take this anymore, I need to move on…
Other thoughts from this weekend’s games:
- Just like I thought, Baltimore didn’t need to score 30 to beat the Patriots, and Joe Flacco played well enough to win the football game. But the Ravens repeatedly beat themselves, even before the dropped touchdown and missed field goal. Baltimore forced 3 New England turnovers that only led to 6 points. After a Danny Woodhead fumble only led to a field goal, I knew that the Ravens had missed a big opportunity. The Ravens also had six penalties and many of them were in big spots. An illegal contact penalty wiped out another Brady interception, and a facemask penalty set up a New England touchdown. Too many mistakes on the road undercut the Ravens on a day when I felt as if they were the superior team, even if only by a hair.
- Mammoth New England Vince Wilfork had a monster game. From the very first snap, he dominated the interior of the Baltimore offensive line, and Flacco had few occasions when he could step up into the pocket and throw successfully due to Wilfork’s disruption. Wilfork single-handedly made Baltimore adjust by running several play action bootlegs to get Flacco outside the pocket, where he had more success without Wilfork in his lap.
- Strange decision by New England to sit on the ball with 53 seconds left in the first half and two timeouts. The Patriot offense had moved the ball well against the Ravens D the entire half, especially with the no-huddle offense. With Tom Brady at the helm, there’s a good chance New England could have gotten at least a field goal before the half. That decision might have haunted Bill Belechick if the Ravens had ended up winning the football game in overtime.
- Speaking of strange decision-making, what was Tom Brady thinking when he tossed the ball deep into double coverage that resulted in the interception that gave the Ravens new life?? With roughly 7 minutes left, New England had really not taken any shots down the field, but instead had methodically moved the ball up and down the field by attacking the Ravens linebackers and safeties underneath. Only the Ravens’ league-leading red zone defense kept the game close by holding the Patriots to field goals. So after Brandon Spikes intercepted Flacco, I expected Brady to orchestrate another long methodical drive that consumed the clock at worst and added points at best. Instead, Brady handed the ball, and momentum, right back to the Ravens, and would’ve been the goat in my opinion if not for Baltimore’s bad fortune.
- Does anyone know if Terrell Suggs played yesterday? I would’ve thought he was at home watching if they hadn’t shown him mouthing “Oh my God”, as Cundiff missed the kick. Total no-show from one of the Ravens’s biggest game changers, although New England helped neutralize him by getting the ball out quickly and running the ball effectively.
- Ray Lewis immediately announced after the game that he would not be retiring. Ray, after watching this game, I thought you already had retired. Lewis was exposed in coverage continually by New England, and was just as bad against the run. He couldn’t get off blocks and was repeatedly late to the ball. Simply put, he looked old and slow. Great player, better leader, sure-fire Hall of Famer. But Ray Lewis’ time as an impact player is far behind him.
- But since Lewis is returning, the one thing you can’t replace is his locker room presence. Lewis stood tall and defended Billy Cundiff, proclaiming “that we win and lose as a team.” It was great to see both losing locker rooms embrace the goats of the weekend, Cundiff, and San Francisco punt returner Kyle Williams. Williams’ teammates firmly but politely told the media that Williams wouldn’t be speaking and fellow receiver Josh Morgan even stood in front of his locker and said he would speak for Williams. Williams eventually spoke briefly with the media. Super Bowl opportunities are extremely tough to come by, so it was heart warming to see players defend a teammate that may have cost them their only shot at a title.
- While many focus on the timeout Ravens head coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t use before the Cundiff kick as the kicker rushed onto the field late, I still thought the kicker was on the field and set in plenty of time. NFL teams practice running on the field and kicking a field goal all season, so to me that’s not on Harbaugh. But I had a much bigger problem with two other decisions by Harbaugh. Facing a fourth and 1 near the goal line early in the game, Harbaugh chose to take the points and kick a field goal. I’m a huge proponent of the theory that a coach is only displaying a lack of confidence in his team by kicking in that situation. By going for it, a coach sends an aggressive message to his team, as well as confidence in both his offense and defense. Worst case scenario, New England is bottled up inside the 5 yard line. The second spot may have been more on offensive coordinator Cam Cameron than Harbaugh- on a key third and 3, Baltimore ran a slow developing run play that Vince Wilfork annihilated. The Ravens had success moving the ball outside because Wilfork was dominating the interior, and had picked up a key first down in short yardage by passing only minutes before. The loss on the play forced the Ravens to go for it on a much less manageable fourth and 6 on the next play.
- The other Harbaugh, Niners head coach Jim, had a much better day despite the loss. Despite picking San Francisco to go to the Super Bowl, I didn’t fully appreciate just how good they really are. This is the best coached team in the NFL in all three phases of the game. It becomes cliché to talk about how fundamentally sound a football team is – but the 49ers personify it. This is the best tackling team I remember seeing in a long time, and quarterback Alex Smith simply refuses to make mistakes, even under duress. Punter Andy Lee is such a weapon that he allows the Niners to grind out games, play for field position and wait for the other team to make a mistake that they can capitalize on. Kicker David Akers allows them to put points on the board from anywhere on the other side of the 5o yard line. Alex Smith didn’t make the plays necessary to win the game, but the Niners are so technically sound that they’re willing to live with that;since they don’t make mistakes or give up big plays, they gamble that eventually the other team will lose their patience and make mistakes. Eli Manning tried repeatedly to make that mistake – the Niners just wouldn’t take it from him.
As a result, I’ve spent the afternoon listening to analysts debate the merits of Eli Manning’s Hall of Fame candidacy if he wins another Super Bowl. My TV may not make it through the day.