Trailing just 22-21 heading into the fourth quarter of last Sunday's game against the Eagles, the New York Giants were, for the first time in weeks, in a position to win. Then came a sight that Giants fans have become all too familiar with in 2013: Eli Manning interceptions. Manning tossed picks on each of the team's first three possessions of the fourth quarter, and just like that, the Giants were to 0-5.
The interceptions during the 36-21 loss to the Eagles gives Manning a league-leading 12 picks thrown on the season and has sparked controversy over how much blame he holds for the Giants worst start since 1979. While older brother Peyton continues crushing opponents and record books alike in Denver, Eli is off to a poor start in New York, having just eight touchdowns and a completion percentage of 53.7.
That's not all his fault, cautions head coach Tom Coughlin.
"I can understand what the football world may think," Coughlin said on a conference call this week. "Actually, what should happen is people should shift (the blame) to me. The guy is trying to play the best he can. He’s certainly trying to do too much. He knows his team, and he knows his responsibility."
In a game so dependent on each member of a team's ability to do their job, parsing through and assigning blame in football is often a difficult and usually over-simplified endeavor, especially when it comes to the quarterback position. While Manning's play has been far below expectations, that has largely been a byproduct of the team around him.
For starters, there's the injured and ineffective offensive line tasked with protecting Manning. Ravaged by injuries since Week 1, the offensive front has been a revolving door of backups and fill-ins. Veteran tackle David Diehl was on the field for just the first time this season against Philadelphia. Chris Snee, a ten-year anchor at guard, was just put on season-ending IR with a hip injury, and center David Baas has been a regular on the inactives list with neck issues. Behind the patchwork front, Manning has been sacked 15 times, tied for fourth in the league, and hit a total of 32 times.
The shaky line has also led to the Giants' near-nonexistent rushing attack, another major contributor to Manning's struggles. The team ranks dead last in rushing yards per game and is averaging only 3.3 yards per carry. Starting running back David Wilson, who has failed thus far to make up for the offseason departure of Ahmad Bradshaw, has just 146 rushing yards and a lone touchdown through five games. With no threat of a run to keep them honest, opposing defenses have been free to either drop extra men into coverage or send additional blitzers.
When Manning has had time to survey the field and get passes off, he's gotten little help from his receivers. The Giants rank fourth in the NFL with 14 dropped passes, and while their 606 yards after the catch is near the league median, over 20 percent of those yards come solely from Victor Cruz. With 473 recieving yards and four touchdowns, Cruz has been one of the lone bright spots on the Giants offense. Behind him, no receiver has more than 21 receptions, and before Rueben Randle's two-score game against the Eagles, none had multiple touchdowns.
Offensive woes have just been half of the Giants' problem. Thin in the secondary and unable to generate the fearsome pass rush for which they've been known over the past half-decade, the team ranks 28th in total defense and is giving up an NFL-worst 36.4 points per game. On the ground, they are allowing 126 yards per game and have given up 37 rushing fist downs, second only to the Jaguars. Between the defense's inability to get off the field and the weakness of the running game, Manning's offense has the worst time of possession in the league.
Without a doubt, Manning has failed to live up to expectations in 2013. As the team's starting quarterback, he rightly shoulders a fair share of responsibility for the 0-5 start. Considering the plethora of issues maiming this Giants' team, though, Manning should be far from their biggest concern.