If Defense Rests, Can Eli Handle the Load?

We're about to find out how much Manning can handle

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    There's no way you can spin Sunday's loss to the Saints as being about the failures of Eli Manning. He wasn't the one allowing receivers to run free across the defense, nor was he one of the parties responsible for Drew Brees spending hours untouched in the pocket before finding those receivers. That's on the defensive players, Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan who made about as many adjustments to his poor initial strategy as Custer at Little Big Horn.

    But that doesn't mean Manning did enough to help his team. Each of the Giants' first two drives ended with Manning missing an open receiver deep down the middle. They salvaged a field goal after the second miss, but that wasn't close to enough to keep the Giants in shouting distance of the Saints. Things got worse on Manning's lost fumble at the end of the first half. The Giants defense had finally held and the team was down 10 and getting the ball back to start the second half. While the impulse to go for points is understandable, Manning couldn't afford unnecessary risks in his own territory while dropping back to pass. 

    You can quibble all day about whose fault it was that Saints safety Roman Harper was untouched on his blitz into the backfield, and about whose missed block caused Manning's interception in the third quarter for that matter, but the fact is that Manning never even looked at Harper before the play began. That's inexcusable when you're facing a team that blitzes as much as the Saints, especially under the circumstances of the game at the time. 

    With another powerful offense rolling into town this weekend in the Cardinals, it seems like a good time to wonder if Manning is up to carrying a heavier load if the Giants defense takes a while longer to figure out how to get things done this season. The injury to Kenny Phillips has left the secondary at least one player short, and the easy schedule made it easy to forget that Steve Spagnuolo isn't in town to call the right numbers anymore. Until that gets straightened out, Eli might have to be more like his brother than he's been in the past.

    This shouldn't be taken as a missive about why Eli isn't capable of doing this, because we have the opposite feeling altogether. Manning's work on late-game drives has proven time and again that he can pull off great feats under adverse circumstances. It's just that those circumstances have always come with a defense that was capable of keeping the Giants in games. They don't appear to have one of those right now, which means that every wasted opportunity by Manning and the offense will loom even larger.

    If Manning is able to pull it off, there won't be much credence to any remaining cynics about his abilities. He'll have every accomplishment of a franchise quarterback under his belt, and the Giants will know that they've got a chance to win even if they can't plug every defensive hole.  

    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.