Stafford is carrying the Lions, while the Giants are carrying Manning

The Giants and Lions are both 9-4, but each team has arrived at that record in a dramatically different fashion.

| 6 months ago
Lions QB Matthew Stafford

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Stafford is carrying the Lions, while the Giants are carrying Manning

In Week 15, the Detroit Lions and New York Giants will meet in a battle of 9-4 teams with two very different stories surrounding their seasons.

The Giants have managed to suddenly put together an extremely good roster, but find themselves hampered by their quarterback—a player that has been instrumental in winning two Super Bowl rings—while the Lions are being propped up by theirs, as Matthew Stafford is enjoying the best season of his career.

Career-worst season for Eli Manning?

Because of what’s to follow, it’s worth stating up front that Eli Manning’s 2011 season was one of the best QB displays of the last 10 years. Manning was consistently fantastic that season, performing incredibly well in spite of an overwhelming volume of pressure coming from a terrible offensive line in front of him. Over the span of that season, Manning was pressured on 39.1 percent of his dropbacks, yet he still maintained a passer rating of 80.9 when hurried, and if anything, only got better in the playoffs. The Giants likely wouldn’t have even come close to a ring that year without Manning.

The 2011 season, though, represents the high-water mark of his career, and since that season, his PFF grade has declined steadily to a career-low mark in 2016. Manning has earned a grade lower than even that of his rookie season, which was a not a good year in its own right.

Eli Manning season grades

Manning is currently the league’s 30th-highest-graded QB, sitting neatly between Colin Kaepernick and Josh McCown, two spots ahead of Rams rookie Jared Goff. This is not illustrious company.

Manning’s box-score numbers look better than that, however, and this is one of those situations where it becomes difficult to show statistically why he has such a poor grade when none of the conventional QB stats point readily to it. His passer rating of 87.8 is 15.0 points higher than McCown’s, and more than 20.0 points higher than Goff’s. Manning has completed 62.9 percent of his passes, while others are mired in the 50.0s, and he has thrown 23 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, a respectable—if not stellar—ratio. The issue, though, is with the plays that haven’t found their way into the right statistical category because of other players failing to make the play.

Manning came out of the second game against Dallas with just one interception to his name, but it should have been at least three, and possibly four. He threw a pass directly to a Cowboys’ defender, and if you pause the tape at the right moment, he has the ball cleanly in his hands before somehow conspiring to lose the handle on it all by himself as he went to ground. There is no defending that play, and the only recourse to anybody wanting to dismiss it is simply, “It didn’t count, so it didn’t happen,” even though the video suggests otherwise.

Eli Manning dropped interception

Against Dallas alone last week, Manning made  six “turnover-worthy plays’ (plays that PFF grades at -1.0 or worse in our cumulative grading system). For the season, he has 29 such plays, more than any other quarterback in the league after Arizona’s Carson Palmer.

Manning makes a turnover-worthy play on 3.5 percent of his snaps, the fourth-highest figure in the league this season, and more than one-and-a-half times above the league average. Tom Brady has made such a play on 0.8 percent of his snaps this season for the league’s best mark, while Matthew Stafford has committed such errors 1.8 percent of his snaps.

Whether those plays have actually resulted in the turnovers or not, whether they deserved to each time is a different matter, and one that relies more on luck and the input of defenders than it does Manning’s play. Unless we want to seriously make the case that Manning targets defenders he knows can’t catch—and even then, he probably shouldn’t be throwing directly to them as much as to the receiver in their coverage–we probably have to accept that the numbers don’t fairly reflect the magnitude of the QB’s negative play this season.

Ironically, if Manning was playing respectably this season, the Giants would be legitimate Super Bowl contenders, because the rest of the roster has suddenly come together extremely well. The free-agent spending spree seems to have worked out almost man for man. Defensive end Olivier Vernon is second in the league with 72 total QB pressures, one behind Khalil Mack and tied with Von Miller. His run defense has been excellent, even if eclipsed by the utter brilliance of nose tackle Damon Harrison in that area. Up the middle, Harrison has seven more defensive stops than any other DT in the league this season, 12 more than Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald, and continues to lead the league in run-stop percentage—a statistic that may as well be renamed in his honor at this point in his career.

Cornerback Janoris Jenkins has played at a level that he only ever flirted with previously in his career, finally living up to his potential rather than simply flashing glimpses of it; most recently, he shut down Cowboys WR Dez Bryant over an entire game, catching as many passes when targeted in coverage (one) as Bryant managed over seven targets.

The Giants’ offensive line is not good—which won’t help Manning—with LT Ereck Flowers, in particular, disappointing after a strong start to the season. It isn’t necessarily bad, though, either, sitting at 16th in pass-blocking efficiency for the year and surrendering the 14th-fewest total QB pressures on the season. Simply put, it’s an average unit that some QBs in the league would happily trade for given what is wheeled out to protect them.

Manning has struggled in the past, but right now, he just isn’t executing nearly well enough for this team to realize its potential.

Career-best season for Matthew Stafford?

In contrast to the New York Giants’ situation with Eli Manning, the Lions are 9-4 thanks in large part to the play of their quarterback. Matthew Stafford has earned the best PFF grade of his career, ranking sixth in the league with a mark of 87.0, almost two points higher than his previous career-best.

Matthew Stafford season grades

For years, Stafford had the crutch of star WR Calvin Johnson to lean on whenever things got tough; Johnson was a built-in safety net, and provided a way for Stafford to not have to process what was going on around him. Whenever in doubt, just hurl the ball vaguely in Johnson’s direction and trust that he would overcome the defender trying to guard him to bring in the catch—or, at the very minimum, have enough physical dominance to prevent it being picked off.

The difference can be seen in Stafford’s numbers this season when pressured. With Calvin Johnson on the team, the QB’s passer rating under pressure was never higher than 71.8, and he had a below-average grade every single season when under duress. This year, with no Johnson to lean on, Stafford has had to actually play quarterback, correctly read what is going on, and find the right place to go with the ball. This has resulted in a passer rating of 83.5 when pressured, more than 10 points higher than in any other year of his career.

Matthew Stafford versus pressure through Week 14

Matthew Stafford vs pressure

Johnson once had 199 targets in a season with Stafford throwing him the ball, the most of any receiver over the last decade. This season, the Lions have only just seen one player creep over 100 targets (Golden Tate, with 103), but they have five players with over 60 targets, including RB Theo Riddick and TE Eric Ebron. Stafford is spreading the ball around and relying on a stable of receiving weapons, not one impossible-to-cover bionic weapon, and it’s made him—and the team—much better.

In contrast to the Giants, though, the rest of this Lions’ roster isn’t nearly as strong in several areas. Detroit’s leading rusher has 92 carries on the season (the league’s leading rusher has 286) and while the secondary has been largely okay, the front-seven has been pretty ugly.

Only DE Kerry Hyder has graded well among Detroit’s defensive linemen, with eight sacks and 44 total pressures to his name, but even he hasn’t been a force against the run, and the Lions don’t have anyone that has positively-impacted that side of the game. Darius Slay has played well at one corner spot, but Quandre Diggs (currently on IR) allowed a league-high 91.3 percent of passes thrown into his coverage to be caught, and the rest of the secondary hasn’t matched Slay’s play.

Detroit has won a series of close games, and regardless of opposition, seems to struggle over the line each week. Against Chicago this past weekend (a three-win team), the Lions relied as much on the Bears shooting themselves in the foot when trying to drive to win the game late than they did on actually stopping them.

The bottom line

In the end, this is a fascinating battle between two NFC teams tied in record, but having achieved that record in completely different ways. Quarterback is the most important position on the field, and the Lions have undoubtedly the superior player filling the role this season (even if Stafford is dealing with an injury to his hand). Is the rest of the Giants’ roster strong enough to overcome that mismatch and keep dragging Eli Manning along in the same way he once did for the rest of the roster?

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Tylerx5

    Let the PFF grading system bashing begin! #EliNotBadBecauseHePlaysForMyTeam

    • mormonrock124

      If he was as bad as PFF says he is the Giants wouldn’t be 9-4. The defense has just started playing well and the running game is simply terrible.

      Turnover worthy plays are a cute stat but they are meaningless and very subjective. Fact is he has lead 5 4 qtr winning drives including against the Ravens and their number 1 ranked defense.

      He’s been avg this year but to have him ranked 30th is just hilarious.

      • Alan

        but do you understand that Football is a 4 quarter game? That what a QB and his team does in the first 3 quarters affects where the team stands in the 4th? 4th quarter winning drives are nice and dramatic but often times the Giants only have to come back because of poor play by Eli in the preceding quarters. What I’m trying to say is the giants wouldn’t need to make these 4th quarter comebacks if Eli could be a little bit better than awful in the earlier quarters.

        • mormonrock124

          Same can be argued with Stafford, which is the overall point. Prime example is the pick 6 w/less than 5 mins left. The Bears were only going to win that game on a turnover, Stafford then leads team on GW drive…so does he suck or is he great? You can overcome turnover worthy plays but GW plays literally win games, it’s just subjective reasoning to highlight that as an analytical point.

          • Diego Martinez

            This is a lame comment. Stafford plays well all game long, as evidenced by his stats. Eli does not. So what Alan is saying about Eli fits, but the same can’t be said about Stafford.. honestly trying to make that connection makes you sound like a homer. The bears game in which Stafford threw a pick 6 was a aberration, due to Stafford having a mangled throwing hand by a injury caused earlier in that game. That was Staffords first pick 6 of the season. That was his first red zone int since mid 2014. Before the bears game Stafford had over 40 red zone TDs and zero interceptions, a NFL record. Before that bears game, Stafford had 15 TDs and 1 INT the last 8 or so weeks, only Tom Brady was better in that period, by a couple TDs. So no, the same can’t be argued with Stafford, because it’s a very lame argument. I mean c’mon, this whole entire article is about Eli needing to be carried by his team, and Stafford carrying his whole team. How are you going to draw the same conclusion then with both of them? If Stafford doesn’t get his hand mangled early in the bears game, he has over a 100 QB rating on the season like he did going in. That can be said with confidence because before the injury Stafford was playing extremely well, completing 90%+ of his passes with precision.

          • Marcus banner

            Except the difference is that Stafford negative plays are few and far between this year compared to Manning and not even close either. So to answer your question, Stafford been great this year and his numbers back that up along with fact lions have had bottom level defense combined with no running game.

          • mormonrock124

            Agreed that Stafford is playing better than Eli and its Eli’s turnovers that are keeping him from being at Stafford’s play, however the Giants D is ranked 14th in the NFL and the Lions are ranked 15th. The Lions running game is ranked 30th and the Giants 32nd and both O lines are basically avg. So this site believes that 9 more turnovers means 30th QB in the league? Well not all turnovers are the QB’s fault we know that because in their write ups they will absolve a QB for an actual outcome and punish them for a possible outcome…that is as subjective as it gets and its comically inept analysis.

            That isn’t analytical in anyway. I will read Fangraph write ups and review sabermetrics which take actual outcomes and multiply them to predict future performance…that’s analytical analysis, to take a should’ve, would’ve, could’ve is not analytics. When I read other QB grades the write ups should include all turnover worthy plays by each QB. The eye test rarely lies and when you review games after the fact you can probably see multiple turnover worthy plays by every QB in every game.

            Just a side note I quickly reviewed the last 6 games by each QB in this game and Eli has a 89.9 QB rating and Stafford is at 88.6, so there’s that. It’s clear Stafford has been better, so that is not my argument, I’m just saying Eli is better than Kapernick.

      • Rodrigo Campos Pedro

        What a dumbass statement from someone who is clearly biased.
        Manning and Osweiler were dogshit last year and the Broncos got the #1 seed and won it all.
        Turnover worthy plays aren’t meaningless.They are good to judge how well a QB is playing.
        It might not relate well to what comes out of the field,but this isn’t what they are trying to do.
        The Broncos are the #1 ranked defense.

        • mormonrock124

          They completely subjective since they aren’t rated the same from game to game. In watching the Sunday night game both QB’s had at least 6 turnover worthy plays yet their grades are different…that’s subjective thus worthless.

      • Anthony

        I have been watching Eli this whole year and he is playing horrible compared to recent years and I hate to say it but it’s true unless some drastic change happens in the playoffs we won’t make it far unless of course the defenders keeps playing like it did against Dallas

        • mormonrock124

          I have been watching him as well all year and he hasn’t been horrible. He’s hasn’t been great the last two games, but overall his numbers are actually pretty close to Stafford, 157 less yds passing, 1 more td pass. It’s the interceptions and completion % that are the separators, now Stafford is better this year, I’ve stated that all along, I am only saying that PFF analysis is highly subjective to have him ranked behind Kapernick…that in all honestly is a joke.

        • AC2

          Funny. Everyone points to the Oline, playcalling, tight ends and running. Then they say, “Eli is playing horrible!” Gee, no crap, Sherlock.

    • AC2

      Nope. Many have problems not with PFFs numbers, but that they think it translates into an authority on what is going on in these games. NFL players themselves have laughed at their analysis. You know why? Because they don’t know the assignments. They don’t routes. The bashing is warranted.

  • TKIY

    I think the key will be the resurgent Lions defense, but in a grinding outdoor winter game the Lions lack of a running game will hurt. I want my Lions to win, and I think they can, but it’s going to be a tough one.

  • BITW44

    I think that the offensive line hasnt ranked as poorly as others because the offense is designed to cover it up as a weakness. Eli was at his best in 2011 when he was throwing downfield to Cruz, Nicks, and Manningham.

    This year the offense is built on short quick passes relying on YAC for plays. I think this is in part designed because they know the offensive line cannot keep a clean pocket for Manning for 3-5 seconds, especially with Pugh out.

    • AC2

      No. Don’t fall into the PFF “propaganda”. The Oline has been very poor. PIs, whiffed blocks, getting blown off the point of attack.

      PFF grades them based on their metrics. However, watch these games. Understand what you’re watching and apply when these mistakes occur.

      There is NO WAY to watch and not realize the Oline is weak. Tight ends and running backs are ordinary. The idea that the Giants are carrying Eli Manning is absurdist nonsense.

      It’s also interesting to note Monson finally acknowledge Eli’s 2011 campaign. That’s because fans and (solid) NFL writers have repeatedly mentioned it since Monson’s and PFFs Eli Manning garbage started in the off season. They now use it to bolster their weak argument that Eli is in decline. It’s pitiful.

  • crosseyedlemon

    The last time the Giants and Lions played a meaningful December game for both teams, FDR was a first term president.

    • cka2nd

      No, BHO was, in 2011.

  • Terri

    I have a question for PFF regarding Eli Manning’s stats 2011 vs 2016: How long did Eli take to throw in 2011 vs 2016. If I remember correctly in 2011 they excelled in the deep passing game with the read-option offense. That takes time to develop. Was the pressure he faced in 2011 due to holding the ball longer? And conversely, is the average protection he is receiving now (based on your evaluations) perhaps a result of getting rid of the ball much more quickly? Isn’t the why OBJ is getting targeted more is because he’s the only one that can create separation quickly?

  • AC2

    Sam Monson is pitiful. PFF stats are not an authority on these games. They are a source of information. The Giants are not carrying Eli Manning. What garbage.

  • MikeC4

    Reading through these comments and the number of them, I’m starting to understand why Monson and PFF continue to troll fans with this Eli silliness. These articles should be written about Carson Palmer or Drew Brees. Not Eli Manning. But then who cares about Carson and Drew.

  • Werner

    Interesting how much Teflon a QB gets by winning two SBs. Everybody to his defense (except his O-Line & TE). But i might say that neither proposition is desirable, the team bailing out the QB or the QB bailing out the Team,You’re best, if it works mutually, but i will eat my words should the Giants defeat the Patriots in SB 51 with Eli emulating his brothers last year performance…

  • KMax

    Just out of curiosity, why does PFF care so much? They have their own metrics, fine. Let readers watching these games draw their own conclusions. Lol. There is disagreement on this headline because it stinks. PFF argues ad nauseum that the the defense is carrying ELI MANNING. Most who can think critically disagrees with this. Sorry Monson. Write it as much as you want and in as many different papers as you want.

    The Giants defense carrying the Giants offense this season does not equate to the Giants defense carrying ELI MANNING.

    • MikeC4

      It’s pretty obvious why Monson constantly bangs this drum. Look at the attention it gets. Not sure if it’s a product of being a Manning, playing in NYC, being a 2xSBMVP, or Eli’s general air of “don’t give a Fk”. But it’s not hard to watch the Giants and understand why Eli’s numbers are down.

      The only number that isn’t down is win percentage. He’s saved the defense for years. They can carry the weight for a change.

      If they walk off the field with their tail between their legs because a playoff QB beat them, and then Eli comes onto the field and pulls them out of the fire again, Monson and all these types will dismiss it as luck or look for someone else to praise. This year it will be Odell. Then the headline will be “Eli Manning, the Most Baffling QB in NFL History.” Only baffling to trolling douchebags.

      That being said, this current Oline will likely derail the season if the coaches don’t figure out a way to them out. And Eli will be blamed.