Giants' all-around strong play saves Manning from criticism
Eli Manning's performance on Sunday was absolutely freaky.
Not freaky good or freaky bad, mind you -- it's just strange that a quarterback could manage to have so many mitigating issues or excuses for both the good things and bad things he did.
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If you start by mentioning the result, it's an inane argument. The Giants won 35-14 against the Cowboys, but it was at home, against an injury-riddled shell of a team, and if you break the game up into the four quadrants (offensive and defensive passing and rushing), the Giants' passing attack was by far the worst aspect of their game. They ran the ball down the Cowboys' throats at will, made Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger look like high school quarterbacks, and held Marion Barber to 2.8 yards per carry. Implying that Manning "led" the team to victory is a classic case of confusing correlation and causation. He was along for the ride.
And yet, Manning's numbers weren't really bad by any means. He was 16-of-27, and although he threw for only 147 yards, he threw for three touchdowns and only one interception.
It's a decent stat line, but if you watched the game, you know there was more to be had. It seemed like two-thirds of Manning's incompletions were overthrows to wide-open receivers, and as good as the offensive line was in the running game, Manning still ate the turf four times. Two of those sacks resulted in fumbles, meaning that he turned the ball over three times when you include that ugly pick-six he threw.
Of course, not all of that is Manning's fault. The interception was almost certainly a misread by Plaxico Burress, who ran the wrong route and followed that miscue with a series of late-game drops. For all the talk of how great the Giants' line was during the broadcast, it was up against a defense with one real pass-rusher (DeMarcus Ware) and had an average game, at best, in keeping the pocket comfortable for Manning.
This is the sort of discussion that makes many a bar argument, which is why it's something best analyzed by the most impartial observer possible -- a computer. And even the computer can't know that Burress read the wrong route or how, exactly, the effects of injury dramatically affect the Cowboys' defense. Manning ended up in our system with -54 DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement), which feels right -- a performance that was good enough to win, but only with the rest of the team playing really well -- and a performance that would've been looked upon entirely differently had the Giants not come through.
Here are the rest of the best and worst players of Week 9, according to the Football Outsiders DYAR statistics. Note that with seven weeks played, opponent adjustments are currently at 90 percent strength.
Peyton Manning IND21/29254201561560365 No, beating up on the Patriots' pass defense is no great shakes. What was impressive, though, was a vintage Manning performance that saw him go 5-of-7 on third down while picking up 14 first downs and two touchdowns on his 29 attempts. He didn't turn the ball over and wasn't sacked once, and with no rushing game of note whatsoever for the Colts, this game -- and the Colts' season, really -- was on Manning. And he delivered.2. Kurt Warner ARI23/3434220146155-9363 Throw in 22 more yards for a pass interference penalty in the first quarter, and you're looking at over 10 yards per attempt. Sure, it was the Rams, but our metrics factor in opponent difficulty, and it's not as if this is a big week out of nowhere. What else does Warner have to do to earn MVP consideration? If the Saints don't make the playoffs, Warner's biggest competitor at his position is out of the running -- there hasn't been a quarterback who won MVP on a team that didn't make the playoffs since the 1967 Colts and Johnny Unitas. The Cardinals are going to win the NFC West. This could happen. Maybe it even should.3. Jeff Garcia TB31/43341111171170387 Garcia had one of those games that just sort of got better as he went along, coming back from 24-3 down against the Chiefs to pick up a miraculous victory on the strength of the Bucs' intermediate passing game. From the last play of the third quarter on, Garcia was 16-of-19 for 186 yards, including five completions of 15 or more yards.4. Joe Flacco BAL18/2924820108110-3297 Remember when Todd Heap was a fantasy threat? He wasn't even targeted for a single pass in Week 9 and had troubles with the snap count. Whether or not that idea about rookie quarterbacks relying on the "safe" targets of tight ends and running backs is true or not, it seems bizarre that Heap can't find a bigger role in the offense.5. Tyler Thigpen KC14/2516410107755283 No, 75 and 5 don't add up to 107. That extra 27 DYAR comes from the touchdown pass Thigpen caught from Mark Bradley, who nearly threw for as many yards in his one attempt as former teammate Rex Grossman did in 19.6. Aaron Rodgers GB22/41314111041013384 The Packers made noise about going five-wide against the Titans and forcing them to stay in coverage. This lasted about one series before the Packers remembered that they'd just given Rodgers $20 million in guaranteed money.7. Sage Rosenfels HOU21/292242194940312 He wasn't perfect, but where is Rosenfels on the list of best backup quarterbacks in the league? Not in the "quarterbacks for the future" sense, but whom would you rather have coming into a game in relief of your injured starter? Matt Leinart wasn't exactly known for his preparation as a starter, let alone as a backup. Brady Quinn's got no experience. Charlie Batch is injured. The only other two guys who really even enter into the discussion are Vince Young and Billy Volek. Seems weird, huh?8. Matt Ryan ATL17/222202092102-10253 Ryan's day was simple. Locate Nnamdi Asomugha before the snap. Figure out who he's covering. Avoid turning in that direction for the rest of the play. Find DeAngelo Hall. Make sure he's covering someone. Throw at him. Debate proper toppings for postgame pizza at Zachary's. Repeat.9. Matt Cassel NE25/342060171701295 In a radio appearance we did this week, we described a flushed-from-the-pocket Cassel as akin to the drunk guy in the corner of the dance floor at a wedding, dancing with himself and staring at the floor the whole time. He was better than that in Week 9, not taking a single sack. Alas, the Patriots might have won had Jabar Gaffney caught the pass Cassel put right in his chest with a clear path to the end zone.10. Donovan McNabb PHI28/43349217082-12341 Eagles fans are well aware of the success that Andy Reid's offense has enjoyed at the beginning of games this year, coming from the 15 "scripted plays" that West Coast offenses focus on in practice and use at the beginning of games. But in Week 9, McNabb started the game with seven consecutive incompletions, only to go 10-for-10 for 109 yards and two touchdowns in a perfect second quarter. Maybe he scripted the plays that didn't work this time.11. Derek Anderson CLE17/33219215655126612. Kerry Collins TEN18/371800050473287 Collins was pretty atrocious until the final drive of the fourth quarter, at which point he went from having -1 passing DYAR to finishing with a respectable 47.13. Chad Pennington MIA23/402810149490281 He finishes ahead of Brett Favre for another week. His 281 yards look good, but it was against one of the worst pass defenses in the league. The failure of Dre' Bly to be anything resembling the cornerback he was in Detroit is another data point in the argument that you can't acquire Cover 2 cornerbacks and expect them to play man most of the time.14. Dan Orlovsky DET29/462922247434320 Orlovsky could actually be a good quarterback in the league at some point, but he's in over his head right now. He had no idea where the Bears' rush was coming from on most plays, and while the offensive line kept the rush quiet in the first half, Orlovsky was rushed on virtually every play in the second half.15. Brett Favre NYJ19/28201014460-15203 You know, it would be one thing if Favre was forcing balls into tight spaces, trying to make plays that he thought he could get away with. Instead, Favre's picks have been a lot of ugly throws, including absolute howlers the past two weeks that led to touchdowns.16. Ryan Fitzpatrick CIN21/31162212632324817. Jay Cutler DEN25/46307232526-1283 Cutler deserved better from some of his supporting cast in this game, particularly Brandon Marshall, who was giving up on plays, pouting and put on a Todd Pinkston-esque display of alligator arms on one pass over the middle. The play calling was also stale -- there was a stretch where it seemed like literally every Cutler pass involved play-action and a bootleg. That's a good way to get your quarterback killed if you do it too frequently.18. Kyle Orton CHI8/141080018126120 For a second, let's forget about the injured ankle and imagine an alternate reality where the Bears have a veteran backup and didn't give Orton 15 starts he was woefully underprepared for in 2005. Instead of it being a national surprise in 2008 that Orton's actually a talented player, Orton would be seen as one of the league's most promising quarterbacks. If he continues playing like this, he'll be entering free agency at the end of the 2009 at 27. Instead, he's not going to be 100 percent for the rest of the season, and will have to prove next year that his true level of talent is more 2008 than 2005.19. Gus Frerotte MIN11/181823144111820. Trent Edwards BUF24/352921200020721. Seneca Wallace SEA13/2816910-25-23-212422. Brooks Bollinger DAL9/166311-29-29044 Throwing his lone touchdown pass to Terrell Owens was probably a good way to ingratiate himself into 81's good graces. He's now likely the Cowboys' second quarterback for the rest of the season, but if Tony Romo goes down again, there could be rioting to try to prevent him from suiting up.23. Marc Bulger STL16/3318622-44-506144 Two touchdowns are good. Throwing for five first downs in 33 attempts that's not so good. Remember: Eighty of those yards came on one play. That means Bulger had 32 other passes on the day for a total of 106 yards. That's just ugly.24. David Garrard JAC22/3823201-49-48-1175 He was 2-of-9 on third downs. That includes a third-and-goal from the 3 that, if converted, would've ended up being the points that won Jacksonville the game.25. Eli Manning NYG16/2715031-54-5408126. Matt Schaub HOU11/1613901-55-55029 Some injuries are unlucky, but in general, health is a skill. Like any other skill, it's not infallible, which is why we can say that Tom Brady's really good at staying healthy despite the catastrophic knee injury. Schaub simply doesn't have that skill, and while fans can bemoan the awful luck he has in staying healthy, the reality is simply that he's a brittle quarterback. That's one of the unknowns you get when you trade for a backup quarterback.27. Rex Grossman CHI9/195811-93-1007-2 Ask your favorite Bears fan on Tuesday how he or she feels about the return of Grossman. After the vomiting ends, talk to your friend about whichever presidential candidate you want to lose. Associating that candidate with Grossman is a sure way to get Bears fans to vote against him.28. Brad Johnson DAL5/117102-97-970-70 At least statues don't crumble in three weeks.29. JaMarcus Russell OAK6/193101-184-20319-109 Now that Lane Kiffin's finally out of the way, Russell can finally devel ... oh, nuts. Five most valuable running backsRkPlayerTeamRush
Brandon Jacobs NYG11710045450135 On days like Sunday, it seems impossible that anyone could ever tackle the guy. Did you see him cut across the field in mid-run like he was a little kid doing his best Barry Sanders impression? Now, just remember that the "kid" is 264 pounds.2. Ray Rice BAL1540220422814164 He probably would've finished ahead of Jacobs had he converted the third-and-1 he faced with the game tied in the fourth, but when he got the ball next, he ran for 60 yards and set up the game-winning score.3. Kevin Faulk NE600380422022123 He caught all the passes thrown to him and ran effectively through the huge swaths of space opened up in the center of the Indianapolis line. An underappreciated game from a perpetually underappreciated player.4. Thomas Jones NYJ691380423012151 He was 5-of-6 in the passing game, and quietly efficient in the running game -- only two carries over 10 yards, but four carries of 6 yards or more.5. Chris Johnson TEN89172034727186 How do you give Matt Ryan rookie of the year over this guy? Least valuable running backRkPlayerTeamRush
Marion Barber DAL540-120-36-21-151 Sometimes, the stats are unfair. In this case, Barber was up against fronts keying on the run, and had a catch that went for -12 yards. On the other hand, he's been lucky enough to play in an offense with an excellent passing game his entire career. Five most valuable wide receivers and tight endsRkPlayerTeamRecAttYdsAvgTDTotal
Derrick Mason BAL9913615.1178169 A flawless day. Every single one of Mason's completions went for a first down except for the final one, which was merely the game-tying touchdown.2. Donald Driver GB71113619.4172175 Four completions of 19 yards or more? Yeah, that'll work. There's been talk that his role in the offense will be scaled down to feature Jordy Nelson, but Driver put those plans on hold.3. Brent Celek PHI6613121.8056158 Celek showed up in our Top 25 Prospects list this year as a tight end well-fit for the Eagles' system who could run down the field and surprise a few people. This would qualify.4. Antonio Bryant TB81011514.4149135 This should continue to work out well until Bryant wears out his welcome in his second year with the team, just like he has at virtually every other stop he's made.5. Shaun McDonald DET666510.8148112 Four first downs on six tries, and the other two throws went for 7 and 8 yards on first-and-10. Quiet, but efficient and effective. Least valuable wide receiver or tight endRkPlayerTeamRecAttYdsAvgTDTotal
Syndric Steptoe CLE2594.50-50-42 Doesn't his name sound like something you'd catch on the Oregon Trail? "Aw, man, Charlie just died of the syndric steptoe! I knew we shouldn't have spent all our money on axles and meat!" It's the only way we could get Steptoe and "catch" in the same sentence after his 9-yard, one-fumble performance this week.
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