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Christmas or Not, Eli Manning's Got to End the Season of Giving

Steve Smith's injury latest obstacle for Manning to overcome

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Dec 16, 2010  |  Updated 10:45 AM EDT
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The Giants passing game appeared to suffer a blow on Wednesday when the team announced that Steve Smith wouldn't be back this season after injuring his knee against the Vikings.

Eli Manning has a different opinion. He told reporters that while the team would miss Smith, his loss wouldn't have a significant negative impact on the passing game. That leads to only one question for Manning.

What is it that is having such a negative impact on the passing game, then? 

We'd love to hear the answer because Manning is the biggest thing standing in the way of a rush to the Giants bandwagon right now. The defense has allowed 13 points over the last 10 quarters and is playing better than it has at any other point this season. Brandon Jacobs has regained the ability that disappeared for most of the last two seasons and Ahmad Bradshaw has recovered Tom Coughlin's trust to form a dangerous rushing game. Even Matt Dodge, who seemed like a practical joke for most of the first three months, has become a somewhat reliable punter.

That leaves only Manning and his 19 interceptions as a serious reason to doubt the Giants' chances of making a big run before the year is out. And, unlike the other problems that have hurt the Giants in 2010, there's no sign that things are getting better. 

He's thrown eight picks in the last five games, including three in the last two weeks against wildly overmatched teams from Washington and Minnesota. He didn't crack 188 yards passing in either of those games and has topped 200 only once in the last four contests. Tougher opposition isn't going to allow the Giants to run the ball all over them and will use those miscues to steal games.

You know that's true because that's just what the Cowboys and Eagles did in back-to-back November matchups.

You can excuse his performances by pointing out all the injuries that have led to revolving doors for the offensive line and receiving corps, but that runs counter to every notion about top quarterbacks that exists in the NFL. It also runs counter to every notion about how having a good running game opens up the field for a passing game. Eli's productivity has nosedived just as the ground game has picked up steam, a very curious state of affairs for a guy you expect to lead his team.  

He's had some good moments, most particularly the fourth quarter of the Jaguars game, but it would be awfully hard to buy any argument that Manning hasn't taken a step backward this season. He was the best (only good?) thing about the Giants of 2009, yet has been less effective with a better team around him in 2010. That's troubling, because the Eagles and the door to the division title now stand in front of him. Eli's going to have to make throws, avoid mistakes and, based on recent results, probably won't be able to rely on the running game to carry the load. Can he reverse the trend?

Eli's defied expectations before, see the run to Super Bowl XLII, and now's as good a time as any to get back to that approach.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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