From elite to unwatchable.
That is the story of Eli Manning, the New York Giants quarterback who only two years ago had led the team to its second Super Bowl title in five years. For a time, Manning could do no wrong, living off his perfect pass to Mario Manningham down the left sideline that jump-started the game-winning drive in the final minutes of Super Bowl XLVI.
Fast forward two years, and Manning is a bum. All you need to do is listen to New York's most popular sports radio station, WFAN. The calls come streaming in, especially on Mondays, because that is when Manning makes his weekly appearance during the season. Irate fans want host Mike Francesa to ask a litany of tough questions, most of them centering around his perhaps-inconceivable amount of interceptions.
Of course, most fans happened to glaze over some of the other problems derailing Big Blue's season. Now retired, Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride points out that Manning was behind a sieve of an offensive line, per Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News:
"It just made it impossible for our quarterback to function," Gilbride told Alex Marvez and Bill Polian on Late Hits. "He's a guy where if you give him enough time, he's always going to be throwing the ball to the right person, he's going to know what you're doing defensively, he's going to see through your disguises, he's going to be an accurate passer. But he's not a scrambler and you've got to give him some help. And if you give him some help he's proven that he can win a championship for you."
Manning was consistently being pressured from all angles, dealing with Justin Pugh's rookie struggles and the shuffling of the line's depth chart throughout the season. Of every tackle in the NFL, Pugh was the highest rated of the Giants on Pro Football Focus' list for pass blocking efficiency, coming in at 51st with a -1.6 rating.
Unfortunately, the Giants' other tackle William Beatty clocked in 71st out of 76 tackles on PFF with a -14.3 mark. As for the guards, Kevin Boothe ranked 41st of 81 at -1.0. Boothe looked like John Hannah compared to David Diehl, who was next-to-last with a grotesque showing of -20.0. At center, Jim Cordle came in 27th of 35 with a -4.1.
All told, an argument could be made the Giants had the worst pass-blocking line in the NFL, giving Manning almost no chance in most of his games. It led to the former No. 1 overall pick to have his worst season, throwing for only 3,818 yards and 18 touchdowns against those NFL-pacing 27 picks.
Incredibly, New York only finished 20th in sacks allowed with 40, due mostly to Manning getting rid of the football quickly. Unfortunately, this also led to some bad decisions out of desperation.
In the upcoming NFL Draft this May, it would seem obvious that the Giants look toward a big ugly in the first round to man a tackle spot opposite Pugh if they don't address the issue in free agency. There will be options, likely including Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert, who is coming off his first Pro Bowl.
Ultimately, it is easy for the disgruntled New York fan to scream and curse at Manning, if only because it's less of an effort to scream and curse at the five guys in front of him.