Eli Manning Makes Easy Look Hard and Hard Look Easy

Manning dominates on deep balls, struggles on short stuff

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning preapres to pass under pressure from Dallas Cowboys defenders.

    Usually when a quarterback is described as taking what the defense gives him, it's something of a backhanded compliment. Those games tend to see a lot of short checkdown passes because of good coverage or a fierce pass rush and usually result in the quarterback being called a game manager when all is said and done. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but it is hardly stirring stuff.

    Eli Manning took what the defense gave him in Dallas on Sunday night, but there was nothing managerly about it. The Cowboys were giving him deep balls, and he was more than willing to let them fly. Mario Manningham and Steve Smith each had 10 catches and combined for 284 yards as they continually found seams in the Cowboys secondary. For the game, Manning was 12 of 16 for 254 yards and two touchdowns on passes of 10 or more yards.

    There will be a bunch of people saying this week that Manningham and Smith proved the Giants don't miss Plaxico Burress, but Manning was really the difference. He delivered the passes on point and on time, in stark contrast to a miserable performance on shorter pass plays, and made things real easy for his receivers on passing plays that come with a high degree of difficulty. That unusually efficient performance constituted the bulk of his work for the evening and helped the Giatnts over come the Dr. Jekyll half of his night.

    When the Giants need a steely, precise quarterback the most, the Manning who strafed the Cowboys has been nowhere to be found. The team had five trips inside the Cowboys red zone on Sunday night and all five times they failed to score a touchdown. Even if you throw out the final drive because they were trying to get a field goal, that's a poor job and it makes two straight games without a touchdown in those situations. The problem isn't a new one, it plagued them last season as well, and it will hurt them at some point this season if Manning can't do a better job of leading the team when they're close to the end zone. 

    It's hard to get too worked up about Manning's night in the face of a win, but it's not something that can just be ignored. If Tony Romo hadn't treated the ball like it was laced with swine flu, the Giants would have been run off the field because of their willingness to leave points on the board. The deep balls were great, and Manning led a terrific final drive but both act to obscure the kinds of problems you don't expect to keep seeing from a quarterback with his experience, contract and supporting cast. 

    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.