QB Index, Week 13: Eli Manning stopped cold by Giants

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Eli Manning's 13-year run as the New York Giants' starting quarterback ended Tuesday out of the blue with a press release titled: "Geno Smith to Start at QB on Sunday."

It was a stunning, cold end to a Giants era, a moment that Manning was uniquely prepared for. He learned how bruising being a franchise quarterback was before his career even started, awkwardly holding up a Chargers jersey at the 2004 NFL Draft when they selected him No. 1 overall despite Manning making it clear he refused to play for the team. He took over as the Giants' starter in November of that year under difficult circumstances, the team at 5-4 with veteran receiver Amani Toomer saying Kurt Warner was being made a "scapegoat" for their offensive troubles.

It's easy to forget just how difficult that rookie season was on Manning. He completed fewer than 40 percent of his passes in his first four starts -- all losses -- bottoming out when he got benched during a 4-for-18 performance in Baltimore that included a 0.0 quarterback rating. Manning's response to that day was so telling for who he would become in the 206 consecutive starts that came next. He played his best game as a rookie the following week and wound up orchestrating one of the most dramatic second-year leaps for a quarterback this century the following season.

That's why I think of Eli whenever someone warns of playing rookie quarterbacks too early in their career for fear of scarring their confidence. To survive at the position over the long haul takes an incredible amount of mental and physical toughness, traits that Manning had in abundance. Routinely there to take responsibility for his team's struggles, Eli constantly dished out praise to others, remained steadfast and was always -- sometimes frustratingly so -- the same exact guy.

It will be so strange to see Manning backing up Geno this weekend, a press release having taken Eli out before an injury ever could.

This is the Quarterback Index. The QBs are ranked based on 2017 play only. The next ranking of all 32 starters comes next week.

BEST OF THE BEST

1
Tom Brady
QB
Patriots

2017 stats: 11 games | 68.4 pct | 3,374 pass yds | 8.3 ypa | 26 pass TD | 3 INT

2
Carson Wentz
QB
Eagles

2017 stats: 11 games | 60.2 pct | 2,657 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 28 pass TD | 5 INT | 253 rush yds | 0 rush TD

Only three quarterbacks in NFL history have logged at least 25 touchdown passes -- with five or fewer INTs -- in a team's first 11 games. Brady has accomplished it for a third time this season. And Wentz just joined Aaron Rodgers as the only other players to do it. This stat highlights why MVP arguments for any other players this season smack of a desire to be different, just for the sake of it.

Brady and Wentz are both having truly exceptional seasons in such different ways. Every game counts in a 16-game campaign, and you can find at least two to three relative "down weeks" for any other quarterback that just don't exist with these two.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

3
Russell Wilson
QB
Seahawks

2017 stats: 11 games | 62.3 pct | 3,029 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 23 pass TD | 8 INT | 401 rush yds | 3 rush TD

4
Matt Ryan
QB
Falcons

2017 stats: 11 games | 67.6 pct | 2,884 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 16 pass TD | 8 INT

5
Drew Brees
QB
Saints

2017 stats: 11 games | 71.3 pct | 3,029 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 16 pass TD | 5 INT | 2 rush TD

6
Ben Roethlisberger
QB
Steelers

2017 stats: 11 games | 63.1 pct | 2,948 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 20 pass TD | 12 INT

7
Matthew Stafford
QB
Lions

2017 stats: 11 games | 62.5 pct | 3,010 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 21 pass TD | 6 INT

Anyone arguing that Wilson deserves a tier to himself at No. 3 would be arguing about a rather mundane matter, considering what is happening in the world around us ... But said person would also be completely justified.

It will be interesting to see how Brees responds to what was his worst game of the season in Los Angeles. The Rams' dropped picks saved Brees from an ugly box score, but it was more surprising to see how early pressure flustered the veteran's decision making throughout the game. He also was unable to hit mid-range and deep throws when available, his passes losing steam in the L.A. air. It was a reminder -- not that the Saints needed one -- that getting home games in the playoffs would be massive for New Orleans' passing attack.

NEXT LEVEL

8
Alex Smith
QB
Chiefs

2017 stats: 11 games | 68.8 pct | 2,873 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 19 pass TD | 4 INT | 235 rush yds | 1 rush TD

9
Philip Rivers
QB
Chargers

2017 stats: 11 games | 62.1 pct | 2,948 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 20 pass TD | 7 INT

10
Kirk Cousins
QB
Redskins

2017 stats: 11 games | 66.2 pct | 3,038 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 19 pass TD | 6 INT | 145 rush yds | 3 rush TD

11
Cam Newton
QB
Panthers

2017 stats: 11 games | 60.3 pct | 2,400 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 14 pass TD | 11 INT | 464 rush yds | 5 rush TD

12
Jared Goff
QB
Rams

2017 stats: 11 games | 61.8 pct | 2,964 pass yds | 8.2 ypa | 18 pass TD | 5 INT | 1 rush TD

13
Derek Carr
QB
Raiders

2017 stats: 10 games | 64.7 pct | 2,444 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 16 pass TD | 8 INT

14
Case Keenum
QB
Vikings

2017 stats: 10 games | 66.1 pct | 2,476 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 14 pass TD | 5 INT | 103 rush yds | 1 rush TD

15
Dak Prescott
QB
Cowboys

2017 stats: 11 games | 63.7 pct | 2,318 pass yds | 6.7 ypa | 16 pass TD | 9 INT | 247 rush yds | 5 rush TD

I come up with these rankings by scoring every start and averaging it over the course of the season. That helps to prevent an overreaction to sudden tailspins, like the last month of play by Smith and Prescott. Both are playing poorly, but that doesn't mean the first two months of the season didn't happen.

Smith is missing some of his short throws and not even trying the deep ones. Since the team's bye, Smith has only attempted four throws over 20 air yards in the last two weeks. He's making some poor decisions on when to run, leaving the pocket before pressure arrives -- a sign of a lack of confidence in his offensive line.

Prescott is having similar problems, not even testing defenses deep. His longest pass in the first half against the Chargers on Thanksgiving went for 8 yards. He's dumping the ball off for short gains on third-and-long as if he expects to get hit, before the pass rush is close. The second-year pro has shown so many great traits in his short NFL career that I'm not worried about what his dip in play means long-term. It was overdue and happens to every quarterback. Like Manning, Prescott appears to have the temperament and leadership to weather the tough times. The struggles of Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston this year are yet another reminder that quarterback career arcs are rarely smooth, and it's a position built for veterans to succeed in.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

Check the Air Index each week to see which quarterbacks are delivering at the top of their game, just like FedEx Ground delivers with fast and affordable shipping.

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