Is Eli Manning Missing His Secret Weapon?
For most of this season, the New York Giants offense has looked like it's operating without a key component — like a car driving without one of its wheels or Floyd Mayweather walking to the ring without being accompanied by a major recording artist. Drives have stalled in the red zone more times than I can count and the flow and rhythm of the once-potent offense has been dramatically subdued. Sure, you can attribute this to a bunch of different things, like the lack of a dependable running game for most of the season, Kevin Gilbride's "playing darts with a blindfold" style of playcalling, rampant turnovers, and just pure bad luck. But one thing that has been curiously missing from Eli Manning's passing attack this season has been productive play from the tight end position.
Since the beginning of his career, Manning has always had an affinity for his tight ends. The tight end position has been a fail-safe of sorts for Manning over the course of his nine seasons in New York. It's where he turns to when the protection breaks down and, perhaps most importantly, it's where he turns to in the red zone when guys like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are double- and triple-teamed.
In the past, Manning has made household names (at least for a brief moment) out of players like Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard. He salvaged Martellus Bennett's career from relative obscurity in Dallas and turned him into a viable pass-catching tight end. Manning has thrown at least five touchdown passes to tight ends every season for the last five years. So far his year, he has only thrown three. Granted, there are still four games left in the season, but the numbers are a tad deceiving, as he has thrown two to Brandon Myers in the last two weeks.
Speaking of Myers, he hasn't exactly panned out how most Giants fans expected him to this season. With only 397 receiving yards and 34 receptions through 12 weeks, Myers has seemed mysteriously absent from the Giants passing offense, especially in the red zone, where the team has needed a tight end the most this season. When you think of all the best offenses in the league, they all prominently involve a tight end: the Saints and Jimmy Graham, the Patriots and Rob Gronkowski, the 49ers and Vernon Davis, and the list goes on. The league has evolved in such a way over the last decade that tight end has become an increasingly valuable position. In a passing league, throwing to the tight end has become a substitute for a sub-par running game — a way to establish control of the middle of the field before stretching it out with the wide receivers.
While I'm not saying that all of the Giants' offensive struggles this season have stemmed from their decreased tight end production, I am saying that it is partly to blame and that the offense has proven over the years that it operates best as a unit when it has a productive tight end. Of the 226 career touchdown passes that Manning has thrown, 60 of them have been to tight ends, which may not seem like a lot, but it is actually more than a quarter of all his touchdowns. Maybe Myers still needs to adjust to the offense and find his footing, but whatever it is, it's certainly something worth looking into before the 2014 season.