Crystal Ball

WEEK THIRTEEN (THURSDAY) CRYSTAL BALL: GURU Talks Eli, Prepares for Dallas

My friends, THE GURU is always ready to talk Skins, particularly during Dallas week, but we’ll begin this column talking about a bitter NFC East rival.

On Tuesday, the Giants organization announced that Eli Manning, he of the 210 consecutive starts and two Super Bowl Most Valuable Player awards, would be benched in favor of Jets castoff Geno Smith and rookie Davis Webb. Many people are outraged while the remainder are perplexed.

Today, we’ll answer two questions:

1. Were the Giants wrong to bench Manning?

If you’ve watched the Giants this season, the answer is simple: they weren’t wrong to bench Eli, per se. His numbers are decent – 14 touchdowns to seven interceptions – but his play doesn’t pass the eyeball test. In fact, I’d compare Manning’s performance this season to Colin Kaepernick’s last year as their numbers are eerily similar. The substantial difference between the two, of course, would be the long-term contributions Eli has made to the Giants franchise.

Whether the decision was correct or not, the way Coach Ben McAdoo went about making the move was suspect at best and egregious at worst. From game one this season, the coach openly questioned his QB’s play in a manner that undermined the team and inhibited its success. Sure, Manning can take the criticism – he did and didn’t complain – but criticizing team leaders publicly never plays well in the locker room and it says here that McAdoo lost his team in week one, dooming the season from its infancy. As a Skins fan, this is a wonderful thing but, for Giants supporters, it’s worse news than waking up to find out that BROTHER BLUENIK is your starting nose guard and VIGGY is playing slot receiver.

At the end of the day, coaching is like any other management position – it’s relationships that matter most and McAdoo gets a failing grade here. He has been tone deaf all season and hasn’t shown the slightest inkling of a personal touch that would endear people to him. The moment the season ends, he’ll be on a fast-moving, paddleless canoe to Saratoga Springs and will have earned every agonizing second of it.

2. Is Manning a Hall of Famer?

The natural reaction of many fans is “Of course he’s a Hall of Famer! He won two Super Bowls!” To that, I say “Ok, then I suppose Jim Plunkett, another two-time SB champ, belongs in the Hall as well.”

Let’s state a fact up front: Eli’s HOF candidacy is every bit as complex as the Bordeaux that TIMMY THE BROWN regularly consumes to watch his Cleveland team play. And it is reasonable to wonder if we’d be talking about Eli as a Hall candidate if he wasn’t a Manning. But let’s look at the data.

The initial data-driven reaction is that Manning, despite the two titles, is a borderline Hall of Famer. Two championships help his case and so does the ironman streak of 210 consecutive starts. But when you’ve missed the playoffs in seven of your last nine seasons AND led the league in interceptions three times, you’re far from a lead-pipe cinch.

Yes, Eli’s 334 touchdown passes are impressive – tied with Philip Rivers for seventh all time as of this sitting – but his 222 interceptions (18th most) are also a boatload in an era where the game has changed so much to favor offenses. His touchdown ratio i.e. the percentage of his passes which were TDs is just 4.6%, tied with the immortal Jay Cutler for 65th best all time. And his interception percentage is 52nd, worse than Blake Bortles – yes that Blake Bortles – and tied with Jeff Blake. Further, he is a pedestrian 41st in completion percentage and 82nd in yards per pass.

“Stats are nice,” you say. “But quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses, not fantasy football production. That’s for losers like TOMMY BIRD.” I agree with you. So, let’s look at the record.

In his 13 full seasons as a starter, including 2017, Eli has made the playoffs six times and captured three NFC East championships. That’s not bad but not otherworldly, either. He won the two titles and, in the other four playoff seasons, didn’t win a single postseason game. You read that right.

In all, he’s posted double-digit victories five times – again, not bad – and has a regular-season record of 109-94 (.537). That last figure, while decent, is 61st on the all-time list, trailing such stalwarts as Neil O’Donnell and Jay Schroeder, both of whom will have to buy tickets to enter the Hall.

“So, GURU, you’re saying that Manning shouldn’t be in the Hall?”

Not so fast, my friend. There are three things that are strongly in Eli’s favor:

1. He is tied for seventh with 30 fourth-quarter comebacks and/or game-winning drives.

As a Skins fan, I know this to be painfully true. And that doesn’t include his clutch postseason efforts. Impressive.

2. He has carried the team on his back.

The impression that many – including yours truly – have long had is that the Giants win with great defense and conservative offense. That the QB isn’t asked to do much because the team is so good on the other side of the ball. How wrong we have been.

Would you believe it’s quite the opposite? That the Jints usually win despite their defense, not because of it. A close look at the numbers reveals that, in Manning’s 13 years as a starter, the team finished 24th or worse in defense, as measured by yards allowed, seven times. Seven!

To wit: here’s a full rundown of the team’s defensive ranking from 2005 to the present: 24th, 25th, 7th, 5th, 14th, 7th, 27th, 31st, 8th, 29th, 32nd, 10th and 31st. That’s an average of 19th in the league with only one top-five finish overall and three bottom-four performances in the past four seasons alone. Heck, given that info, it impresses me that Eli has coaxed 25 victories out of these unsightly pugs over the past four years.

 

3. He hasn’t had superstar teammates on offense.

Ask yourself a question: how many Hall of Famers – past or future – has Eli lined up with on offense during those 13 years? The answer is zero and the only guy with the possibility of getting there is the still-more-flash-than-substance Odell Beckham, Jr.

Who else is there? Jeremy Shockey? Tiki Barber? David Diehl? Shaun O’Hara. Talented players all, but there’s not a Hall of Famer in the bunch. Montana had Rice. Elway had Sharpe and Davis. Brady has Gronkowski. Manning had Manningham, Tyree and now a crotch-grabbing, pass-dropping rookie from Mississippi.

As an example, the fact that Tyree was on the field during the game-winning drive in Super Bowl XLII tells us all we need to know about the sad state of talent around Eli. Tyree had 54 catches in his career. In. His. Career. And the Giants had to have him on the field in the most important drive of the most important game of the year. Crazy.

To put a fine point on it, Eli is super clutch, has won despite being surrounded by poor-to-middling defenses and largely mediocre offensive talent. And, while we’re at it, he’s been a class act from day one. Let’s put the man in the HOF.

The Week Twelve record was 11-5 and the season mark is now 91-60 (.603). On to tonight’s game and we’ll hit the others this weekend…

 

8:25 PM, NBC/NFL NETWORK/AMAZON PRIME

Washington (5-6) at Dallas (5-6). These teams are largely playing for pride at this point but are headed in different directions.

Dallas is nearly finished, all but completely undone by the pure hubris of owner Jerry Jones. If he isn’t in front of the cameras defending Ezekiel Elliott, he’s in the papers spoiling for a fight with Roger Goodell. The next time Jerry takes a moment to listen to someone besides himself will be a first.

This version of the Skins, meanwhile, has become one of the most enjoyable Washington squads for me to watch in years. Beset by injuries up and down the roster, they’ve somehow managed to stay near the .500 mark, beating teams like the Rams and Seahawks while nearly upsetting the Vikings and Saints. I’ve seen many a DC football team roll over and die when the going got tough, legs akimbo like KC MATT at a Janet Jackson concert, but this 2017 team is different.

The credit largely goes to coach Jay Gruden, who has done a wonderful job of getting his guys to play every week, and to the personnel men who’ve stacked the roster with capable talent. Also, as far as players go, I’m giving one man his due: QB Kirk Cousins, who has had a fantastic season in keeping the Skins competitive.

Yes, we are almost surely witnessing the final days of Kirk in a Washington uniform but, boy, is he fun to watch. Throwing darts all over the field, breaking free from the pocket to toss dimes for touchdowns and being everything a leader should be.

Despite injuries to his entire offensive line – with otherworldly left tackle Trent Williams the hardest hit – Cousins has managed to record the seventh best quarterback rating (QBR) in the league in 2017, his third consecutive year in the top seven. He’s second in the NFL in passing yards, leads in completions of 30+ yards and owns one of the best interception rates in the league (just 1.6% of his passes).

It’s a darn shame that the DC brain trust – as it were – doesn’t recognize the stud they have right in front of them. But they’ll long for it next year when the offense’s impotence has the Skins medical staff buying little blue pills by the pallet.

It should go without saying that I love Kirk tonight, and the Skins as well. Ex-Washington tailback Alfred Morris will get his for Dallas, surely, but the good guys will still prevail. SKINS, 27-23.
That’s it for today, folks. I’ll follow up this weekend with the picks for Sunday’s games. Enjoy tonight and God bless!

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