The Buffalo Bills will travel to, um...New Jersey again I guess—to take on the New York Giants. Their offense flows through Eli Manning and Saquon Barkley. We know one of these is great and the other is a two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback. We’ll check in on the latter to see if the offense still flows through Eli Manning.
If the Giants are ahead or even somewhat close on the scoreboard, it’s a safe bet we’ll see a lot of play action. If Saquon Barkley is on the field the defense can’t help but dedicate a lot of attention to him. When Eli Manning is under center passing plays are heavily skewed toward play action. Manning still has enough between the ears to make good decisions and get the ball out fast to take advantage of defensive hiccups. This exact play was selected as it’s a half-hearted effort. This sequence seems to be ingrained to the point of inevitability.
Eli knows right away he’s got nothing in the passing game and makes his decision to bolt. Despite some shyness toward contact we see here and will again see shortly, when push comes to shove Manning will take off if needed. The play also highlights how quickly he works on the mental side.
This is as close to not running play action as it got with Eli under center. He still deliberately turns his body to sell a potential running play though. More importantly, he twists his body a little bit to avoid contact. The result on the throw is not pretty.
It doesn’t take much to sink a pass. Once again that little twitch is enough to ruin any chance of success.
There’s some evidence that Eli has lost some zip on his throws. This underthrow by Manning isn’t drastic but enough to be noticeable. It might seem at this point that this is an Eli Manning bash-fest but the devil is always in the details. Despite a possibly failing arm and other signs of aging, this calculated risk worked. Manning knew when to take the shot and got it done. This was far from the only time.
The GIF points out that the receiver needs to make an adjustment to the ball and that was consistent against the Dallas Cowboys. It can be argued that Manning is the best game-manager-type quarterback in the league based on his ability to protect the ball and nickel and dime his opponents with good decisions. The arm talent definitively seems to be waning, however, as ball placement issues appear to form a pattern.
One more poorly placed ball to show the decline in Manning. The clip also shows a pretty common set of play elements. Eli’s bread and butter is shorter throws and quick strikes. His command of the field allows a lot of opportunities for this to be effective. Take a look at the play above and imagine this was complete. Now think what would happen if this occurred all game.
Eli Manning absolutely looks like a quarterback on the decline when it comes to arm strength and ball placement. It would be incredibly unwise to underestimate him, however. With only eight wins in the last two seasons the easy assumption is quarterback woes. Last season Manning threw for 4,299 yards and 21 touchdowns—and he had his lowest interception rate of his career at 1.9%.
The GIFs show a lot of flaws in his game but only to illustrate how the Bills can beat the Giants. Against the Cowboys, Manning completed 68% of his passes for over 300 yards. Ball placement and arm strength may have been issues, but he was accurate enough to move the ball consistently.
So how did Dallas beat the Giants? The quick-strike nature of Eli’s game can make it difficult to move the ball if there’s a setback on early downs. Second- or third-and-long and obvious passing situations allowed Dallas to limit the damage of a completed pass and prevent the Giants from converting. The Giants converted only two third downs the entire game.
The Bills should look to limit Barkley and play-action passes on early downs to force Manning into longer situations that don’t favor his current skill set. A continued resurgence of the Buffalo pass rush would also go a long way in forcing errant throws. A Giants offense that can stay on schedule will be problematic for the Buffalo Bills.