New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning might be 37 years old, but watching him play, his new head coach doesn’t think age is that much of a factor in his performance.
Manning and the Giants had a down year in 2017. The Giants’ longtime starter under center completed the lowest percentage of his passes (61.6 percent) and posted his lowest quarterback rating (80.4) since 2013. He tossed just 19 touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions, and in the midst of a year where the Giants would finish 3-13, he was benched for backup quarterback Geno Smith.
For many teams, a year like that might be a sign that it’s time to rebuild. The Giants, however, want to win now.
In the offseason, they signed free agent offensive tackle Nate Solder, and more importantly, with the second overall pick in the NFL draft, they passed on selecting Manning’s successor and instead took Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.
Head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman, who were hired to right the ship, seem to think the Giants are still capable of winning with Manning, despite his age and declining performance.
And Shurmur recently addressed the issue of Manning’s age in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer.
Shurmur, who said he studied all 16 Giants games from last year, was asked if he could see Manning’s age impacting his performance.
“No, I didn’t see the age,” Shurmur responded definitively. “There’s no substitute for experience and he’s got it. So no, the age doesn’t bother me.”
In that same interview, the Giants coach explained that he believes in Manning because he can see the passion the quarterback has for the game of football. That passion was evident when he showed up at the Giants team facility to work out in the “dead period of winter,” when most players “players tend to disappear,” Shurmur said.
“You just knew he was a pro, the way he was handling himself. That was number one for me,” Shurmur said. “Wow, this guy cares. At a time of year when some players may not be looking after themselves so well, he was taking great care of himself.”
Manning’s dedication to the game of football also means he’s easy to work and communicate with, Shurmur indicated.
“If you have a quarterback that’s as dedicated, and studies as much as Eli has, that’s the way it’s smart to function, because we’ll go out and run a few plays that he’s somewhat familiar with, and he can add something to it,” Shurmur said. “Or he can say, ‘I’ve never really done this much, so it’s gonna take me a little longer, and that’s his way of saying (he doesn’t like it). And then you’re constantly communicating.”
Shurmur also suggested that with a much better supporting cast, Manning’s job will hopefully be a lot easier in 2018. Last year, the quarterback was forced to play with a poor offensive line and a rotating cast of running backs. And of course, he was without his favorite target, Odell Beckham Jr., for most of the season.
But with Beckham set to return, plus the addition of Solder and Barkley, the Giants hope for better things from Manning.
“When you have a quarterback that’s won as much as Eli, that played through a year like last year, the way to get him back to where he needs to be, we need to block them better, and then the best friend for the quarterback is the running back, where you turn around, hand the ball off and gain yards,” Shurmur said. “It all goes hand in hand. Play action’s way more believable. You can actually run a bootleg naked with a guy like Eli.”
“And then when you choose to drop back and throw, everything’s not always on his plate. So it all goes hand in hand,” he added.
The Giants have taken a bit of a gamble. They’re hoping that Manning still has a few more good years left, which would make their decision not to draft his successor worthwhile for the foreseeable future.
It remains to be seen whether that gamble will pay off.
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