Eli Manning Is a Statistical Puzzle
Looking at Eli Manning's season-by-season statistics and trying to find a pattern of any kind is about as pointless as trying to solve a Rubik's Cube by staring at it. Here, look at these two seasons below and pick the one where the Giants won a Super Bowl:
1: 4,021 passing yards, 62.3 completion percentage, 27 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a 93.1 passer rating
2: 3,336 passing yards, 56.1 completion percentage, 23 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and a 73.9 passer rating
If you guessed that the second stat-line was the one from a season in which the Giants won the Super Bowl, you'd be right. The top line contains Manning's numbers from the 2009 season when the Giants finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs, and the bottom line is Manning's numbers from the 2007 season. Now, while I understand that 2007 wasn't exactly a banner year for Manning until the playoffs began, these stats just serve to drive home the fact that Manning has been a statistical enigma since he arrived in the league.
Manning's success over the last decade has been mainly derived from his intangibles — the kinds of things that you can't readily decipher just from studying the back of a football card. Manning's success and legacy have been crafted from late-game heroics, from being unflappable under pressure, and from being one of the most clutch playoff quarterbacks the league has ever seen. But Manning's success has not been crafted from the box scores on any given Sunday, as his brother's has.
Manning will rarely wow you with his stats. Once in a while, when the offense is clicking and the circumstances allow, he'll put together one of his 400 yards, four touchdown performances, but for the most part, Manning's stats are like his personality: quiet and unassuming. His numbers even tend to stay consistent with each passing year, even when his play isn't. But if there is any semblance of a trend to be found in Manning's numbers over the course of his career, it's going in the wrong direction right now.
This season, Manning is on pace to finish with 4,137 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. The yardage total would be on-par with the last five years of his career. However, the touchdown passes would be a career low for a full 16-game season, and the 27 interceptions would be a career high. Interestingly, Manning's numbers have begun to trend in this direction as early as last season, when his completion percentage, quarterback rating, yardage and touchdown passes were all significant drop-offs from his 2011 totals. If Manning were to finish the 2013 season at the pace he's on now, those drop-offs would be even more pronounced.
Manning's numbers progressed fairly steadily for the first three seasons of his career, until 2007, when they seemed to plateau — at least temporarily. Then, in 2008, his interception total was down, his accuracy was up, and he entered his most statistical successful three-year stretch to date, spanning from 2009-2011.
Last season saw his numbers plateau once again, and this season has continued that trend. If his past is any indication, Manning's career will continue on one of two different paths: either he will rebound next season and post numbers closer to his 2009-2011 seasons than the last two, or he peaked during the 2011 playoffs and will never be the same quarterback again. But judging from the kinds of numbers his brother Peyton has been putting up at 37 years old, I'm going to guess that we'll see the former scenario and not the latter.