Eric Goska column: Manning heats up on third down

Jan. 13, 2012
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning passes during the second half of a Jan. 1 game against the Dallas Cowboys in East Rutherford, N.J.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning passes during the second half of a Jan. 1 game against the Dallas Cowboys in East Rutherford, N.J. / File/AP

Manning third downs

Regular-season and playoff games in which Eli Manning has thrown for more than 150 yards on third down.

Yds. Date Opponent
192 Jan. 8, 2012 Falcons
192 Jan. 1, 2012 Cowboys
159 Dec. 11, 2011 Cowboys
156 Dec. 24, 2011 Jets
154 Oct. 4, 2009 Chiefs
151 Feb. 3, 2008 Patriots


Donít forget Eli Manning and his receivers.

Defense and the return of a running game are hot topics for the Giants who have won a playoff game for the first time since 2007. While both phases have been impressive of late, New Yorkís quarterback continues to set personal bests including improved play on third down that could cause problems for the Green Bay Packers Sunday at Lambeau Field.

The Giants opened the postseason with a 24-2 humbling of the Atlanta Falcons in a wildcard game at MetLife Stadium. To get there, they beat Dallas 31-14 in a regular-season finale in which the winner captured the NFC East Division championship and the loser went home.

Hard running and a strong defense played a role in both victories. In knocking off the Cowboys, Ahmad Bradshaw and his running mates outrushed Dallas 106 yards to 49, while defensive end Osi Umenyiora (two sacks) led a charge that dumped Dallasí quarterback Tony Romo six times. In blowing past Atlanta, Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs gained 155 of a season-high 172 rushing yards, and safety Antrel Rolle and linebacker Chase Blackburn each had nine tackles as the Falcons mustered but 247 yards.

Manning was no slouch, either. The eight-year veteran passed for 346 and 277 yards, respectively, in those games. He also threw three touchdown passes in each (with no interceptions) while compiling passer ratings of 136.7 and 129.3.

Overlooked, perhaps, was his mastery of third down. Manning threw for a career-high 192 yards on that down in each game.

Many of Manningís numbers in 2011 were personal bests: attempts (589), completions (359) and yards (4,933). He ranked fourth, fifth and fourth in the league in those areas.

But unbeknownst to many, Manning led the league in third-down passing yards (1,565) and average gain per attempt (10.16). His play against the Cowboys on the seasonís final weekend moved him past the Saintsí Drew Brees into first place in both categories.

Early in his career, Manningís passing on third down was no better than average. His passer ratings in his first four years were 60.9 (2004), 71.5 (2005), 64.9 (2006) and 73.3 (2007), and he threw for more than 100 yards on that down just six times.

With the exception of a major drop-off in 2010, his numbers have taken flight in the years since. Heís thrown for more than 100 yards 19 times, and his passer ratings have been 93.1 (2008), 112.6 (2009), 54.5 (2010) and 109.4 (2011).

In the must-win finale against Dallas, Manning completed eight of nine third-down passes including a 74-yard strike to receiver Victor Cruz for a 7-0 advantage. Manningís only misfire occurred late in the third quarter with the Giants ahead 21-7.

Against Atlanta, Manning was 9-of-11 including a 72-yard toss to receiver Hakeem Nicks that put New York in front 17-2. Manning completed three straight in the final 15 minutes as the Giants added a third touchdown and controlled the clock for 12 minutes, 31 seconds of the fourth quarter.

Thatís 17 completions in 20 attempts for 384 yards, two touchdowns and a rating of 152.1. It is yet another reason the Giants canít be taken lightly.

Manningís play allowed New York to convert 15 of 30 third downs in its two most recent outings. Manning accounted for 14 of those conversions with his throws, and seven players caught at least one pass with Cruz (4 catches for 145 yards) and Nicks (4-132) inflicting the most damage.

Pass defense has not been Green Bayís strength this year, its many interceptions (31) notwithstanding. Opponents set single-season marks for attempts (637) and completions (390), and the 4,796 net yards Green Bay surrendered is an NFL record.

On third down, however, Green Bay performed relatively well. It surrendered 1,148 yards and seven touchdowns as opponents earned a rating of 70.6. Thatís better than what the team allowed on first (92.3), second (73.2) or fourth down (72.2).

Manning didnít distinguish himself on third down in New Yorkís 38-35 loss to Green Bay on Dec. 4. He completed four of 10 passes for 49 yards and a TD (89.2 rating).

But New York stayed with the Packers in part because Manning piled up yardage on early downs where he was 19 of 30 for 298 yards with two TDs and an interception (104.6).

Therein lies the problem. One way or another, opposing quarterbacks have been piling up yards at Green Bayís expense. Brees (419 yards) was the first, and Cam Newton (432), Philip Rivers (385) and Matthew Stafford (520) were others who surpassed 350.

Even if Manning has another so-so day on third down, he could excel elsewhere. Or he might not.

Either way, as New York demonstrated in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, it can beat the Packers without Manning displaying a strong touch (57.3 rating) on third down. That the younger Manning is as hot as heís ever been on that key down only adds another dimension to a Giantsí team thatís dangerous for all the reasons it was in that gut-wrenching, 23-20 upset nearly four years ago.

Postseason series

• Overall: Green Bay leads 4-2

• At Lambeau Field: series tied 1-1

Starting quarterbacks

• Packers: Aaron Rodgers (4-1 overall; 0-0 vs. New York)

• Giants: Eli Manning (5-3; 1-0 vs. Green Bay)

Once a Giant, now a Packer

Running back Ryan Grant spent the 2005 season on the Giantsí practice squad and the 2006 season on injured reserve. Safety Charlie Peprah was the Giantsí fifth-round draft pick in 2006 and played in four preseason games with them that year.

Once a Packer, now a Giant

Cornerback Will Blackmon (2006-09) and safety Derrick Martin (2009-10) are former Packers. Defensive end Dave Tollefson was a seventh-round draft choice of the Packers in 2006.

Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of "Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness," a statistical history of the Packers. Email him at

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