Eli Manning was handed the keys to a supposed sports car this season, stocked with a supped-up engine, satellite radio, seat-warmers, the works. He's driving it like a soccer mom taking the Volvo to practice.
The New York Giants spent the offseason surrounding Manning with as much talent as possible. Big Blue used the No. 2 overall pick on talented running back Saquon Barkley, paid Odell Beckham Jr. gobs of money to not hold out, signed Nate Solder to play left tackle and drafted guard Will Hernandez. Couple those moves with the growing talents of tight end Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard and the Giants offense was supposed to be enough to buffer an aging Manning.
Through four games, we've rarely seen the supposition put into practice.
Manning has been one of the most conservative quarterbacks in the NFL. In a passing league that rewards chances taken, Eli is a walking dump-off.
"Risks are not what you want to take,'' he said, via the New York Post. "You throw the ball down the field when it's not risky, and then there's forcing things and that leads to turnovers that leads to mistakes.''
It's fine to be smart with the ball. It's silly to seem scared.
Nothing exemplified the Giants offense more than a third-and-14 dump-off to Shepard that brought the boo-birds out at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. On the play, Manning had time to try to take a shot. The worst-case scenario is an arm-punt. Instead, he conceded.
A still-struggling offensive line has seemingly made Manning gun-shy -- at least that's what Eli defenders will point toward to place blame. Yet, during Sunday's loss to the Saints, the quarterback was decently protected most of the game. Even down double digits, the Giants took just two shots downfield all game, connecting on neither.
Manning's adversity to taking chances has been evident this season. That perception is borne out in the stats. He owns the fifth-lowest air-yards per attempt this season at 7.4, and ranks 20th in yards per attempt at 6.3. His third-best passer rating of 114.1 is buffered by a 40.4 wide open through percentage (the percent of a QB's attempts where the targeted receiver has 3-plus yards of separation). In summation, Manning is making short, quick throws that the defense will happily give up, eschewing the risk of trying to fit the ball into tight windows.
"Obviously, I can play better, need to play better,'' Manning said. "I feel like I have a good feel of the offense. We're getting completions. Not turning the ball over and making mistakes. I think I can do a better job of just feeling the rush or feeling when you have time to maybe push the ball down the field.''
Manning spent the offseason talking about how he wanted to prove management right for sticking by him. Thus far, he hasn't. He's got 12 more games to turn it around.