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Eric Goska column: Giants' Manning breaks down on third down

Nov. 23, 2012
 
Giants quarterback Eli Manning walks off the field after losing 19-17 to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 30. Manning's quarterback rating has dropped to 81.2.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning walks off the field after losing 19-17 to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 30. Manning's quarterback rating has dropped to 81.2. / File/AP
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Sliding on third down

Quarterbacks whose third-down passer ratings have dropped by the most points from their third-down ratings of 2011.

Diff.Quarterback20122011
-47.7Eli Manning61.7109.4
-41.4Drew Brees86.0127.4
-36.4Tony Romo69.1105.6
-14.9Philip Rivers72.787.6
-14.5Cam Newton74.989.4
-10.1Matt Ryan88.898.9
-10.1Blaine Gabbert68.278.3

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Third down has not been the charm it was for Eli Manning last season. No quarterback has experienced a greater ratings drop year-on-year in this area than Manning.

On the way to a Super Bowl victory a year ago, Manning and the New York Giants established a team record for passing yards (4,734) by averaging 295.9 yards a game. The team’s passer rating (92.9), which was also Manning’s rating, was the third highest in club history.

This year, passing yards (256.0 yards per game) and passer rating (81.2) are down. But the biggest slide has occurred on third down.

Manning compiled a rating of 109.4 on third down last year. It was the second best of his career behind the 112.6 he earned in 2009.

Manning is nowhere near those numbers this season. Through 10 games, his rating of 61.7 (31st in NFL) is 47.7 points lower than a year ago.

Only the Saints’ Drew Brees (minus-41.4) and the Cowboys’ Tony Romo (minus-36.5) can come close to matching Manning’s skid. And both of those quarterbacks have been trending upward recently whereas Manning has not.

Manning’s play of late calls to mind a younger Eli, one who entered the NFL as the San Diego Chargers’ first-round draft choice in 2004. In the first three seasons in which he had enough attempts to qualify, Manning ranked 23rd (71.5, 2005), 27th (64.9, 2006) and 17th (73.3, 2007) in third-down passing.

Those early-career numbers now look positively robust when compared to his output of the last three games. In a win over Dallas (29-24) and losses to Pittsburgh (24-20) and Cincinnati (31-13), Manning completed 12 of 29 third-down passes for 154 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a rating of 32.8.

This nearly 50-point drop of Manning’s is the second time he has taken a big spill. After his career year on third down in 2009, he bottomed out with a rating of 54.5 (minus-58.1) in 2010.

That big drop, however, didn’t seem to bother New York as its record improved from 8-8 to 10-6. Similarly, the team’s 6-4 record this year is slightly better (percentage-wise) than the 9-7 of last season.

Manning’s failure to deliver has done little to the Giants’ third-down conversion rate as well. In 2011, New York made good on 77 of 206 attempts (37.4 percent). This year the team is 47 of 126 (37.3).

Obviously, shortcomings on third down can be atoned for elsewhere. For Manning, the time to make hay has been second down.

Manning has thrown five of his 12 touchdown passes on second down, and just one of his 11 interceptions. With 87 completions in 123 attempts (70.7 percent) for 881 yards, he’s fashioned a respectable rating of 101.0 on that down.

Second down is also where he hurt the Packers in Green Bay’s 38-35 win in Week 13 last year. Manning had one incompletion in 11 attempts for 113 yards and a touchdown (139.8 rating).

In the playoff matchup between the teams, however, Manning chose first down on which to torment the Packers. There, he threw two touchdown passes to Hakeem Nicks and one to Mario Manningham as he compiled a rating of 151.4 on 9-of-13 passing for 187 yards.

Contain Manning on one down, and he pops up somewhere else. He can be as troublesome as dandelions in the spring.

Sunday at MetLife Stadium, Green Bay would do well to take a page out of Pittsburgh’s defensive playbook. The Steelers so dominated first and third downs in their win over the Giants on Nov. 4, that Manning’s success on second down didn’t cost them the game.

Cornerback Ike Taylor grabbed a first-quarter interception as the Steelers allowed Manning but two completions and a passer rating of 6.0 on first down. They were equally stingy on third down, on which Manning managed just one completion in six attempts for 1 yard.

Extra point

Victor Cruz is the Giants’ leading receiver on third down. The third-year receiver is tied for seventh in the NFL with 18 catches for 246 yards and two touchdowns.

Regular-season series

Overall: Packers lead 27-21-2

At MetLife Stadium: Green Bay leads 1-0

Starting QBs

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (48-24 overall; 2-0 vs. New York).

Giants: Eli Manning (75-54; 0-3 vs. Green Bay).

Once a Giant, now a Packer

There are no former Giants on the Packers’ roster.

Once a Packer, now a Giant

There are no former Packers on the Giants’ roster.

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 aegoska@sbcglobal.net.

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