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Eli Manning Needs To Rebound After A Disappointing Year

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Can Eli Manning correct past mistakes and come back stronger in 2013? Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.
Can Eli Manning correct past mistakes and come back stronger in 2013? Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Since he arrived in New York in 2004, it's been fairly clear that as Eli Manning goes, the New York Giants also go. When Manning is at the top of his game, as he has been for much of the past five seasons, the Giants win football games.

More importantly, they win championships.

But when Manning is off his game and he struggles with finding his groove, the Giants struggle as a whole, flailing about while trying to keep the ship upright. When you look at Manning's 2012 season in a nutshell, it followed a pattern eerily similar to the one the team followed as the season wore on. A hot start that seemed like Manning was on his way to another MVP-caliber season gave way to a rough patch beginning in Week 9 that put the team in a tailspin and would ultimately keep them out of postseason play.

On the surface, Manning's 2012 stats didn't stray too far from what we've seen of him over the last five or six years. Although he fell short of the 4,000-yard mark for the first time since 2008, it seems remarkable that he even reached 3,948 yards, given the fact that he only topped the 300-yard plateau three times during the season. To put that figure in perspective, Manning threw for over 300 yards eight times in 2011.

However, there was something else that seemed off about Manning's play last season; something that had been mostly absent since the end of the 2007 season when Manning suddenly found that extra gear and went from being the shaky, inconsistent brother of a superstar quarterback to being a Super Bowl MVP almost overnight.

What that something was isn't entirely clear (at least to anybody not named Eli Manning).

For the first time in a while, though, Manning looked unsure of himself and just didn't seem to be able to connect on the kinds of throws he was connecting on in 2011. Whether it was defenses responding to the Giants' propensity for going deep by putting more pressure on Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz downfield, or whether it was simply a matter of Manning having a rough patch, the three-game stretch between Week 8 and Week 10 were three of the most underwhelming performances that Manning has had in his career.

In those three games, Manning completed only 54-of-99 passes along with four interceptions and no touchdowns. Although the Giants were able to steal away a win in Dallas in Week 8, two straight losses in the following weeks to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati kicked off a stretch where the team would lose five of their last eight games.

Manning's troubles last season were characterized by much more than just overthrown deep balls and missed opportunities — they were characterized by a rash of bad decisions that many fans thought Manning had outgrown. There were more than a few instances last season of head-scratching decisions that Manning made, either forcing balls into double- and triple-coverage or telegraphing passes directly into the arms of a waiting linebacker or safety.

Those kinds of mental lapses were more common in Manning's earlier days, but last season they seemed to pop up more often, and it was a troubling subplot to the season for many Giants fans who had figured that their two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback had moved past making mistakes like those. Manning had five multiple interception games last season, which was two more than the three multiple interception games he had in 2011.

Interceptions are unquestionably the biggest issue that Manning needs to work on improving in 2013 if he wants to really make that leap. In his eight full seasons in the league, Manning has yet to have a season where he throws fewer than 10 interceptions, and it's been a problem that has followed him for most of his professional career thus far. He needs to focus on being more careful with the football this season and cutting down on those mental lapses that are not only drive-killers but can completely swing the momentum of a game — especially late in the second half.

Whether or not many of the interceptions are off of tipped balls or a receiver's mistake is irrelevant. Simply put, Manning needs to be more accurate with his throws. His completion percentage dipped below 60 percent last season for the first time since 2007, which put him at 17th in the league behind guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Christian Ponder.

If Manning wants to be included among the top five quarterbacks in the league, he needs to be more accurate and that completion percentage needs to be well above 60 percent. Between cutting back on the mental lapses and interceptions, by making better decisions with the football — especially on his throws downfield — Manning can improve on what many consider to be a disappointing 2012 season and help the Giants rebound and get back to playing January football.