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Eli Manning's Two Minute Magic: He's Been Doing It Since 2005, We Just May Not Have Noticed

Eli Manning is the best two minute quarterback in football. Johnny Unitas invented the two minute drill, and Eli has made it his career hallmark. Yes, he has done it in both Super Bowls, and yes, he has done it recently. However, his performance in two minute drill situations has been pretty consistently good going back to 2005. In fact, the things that have changed are his teams holding the lead, the frequency of close games being more noticeable, and the high profile nature of some of the recent comebacks.

Stat guys are supposed to not like “clutch”, right? I like exciting game ending plays just as much as the next guy. What I don’t like is crediting someone for the wrong things, or discrediting them for things beyond their control. Field goal kickers are one example of this, as is coaching decisions. Don’t confuse luck with being good when it comes to things like special teams setting up key comebacks, or the difference between one kicker making and one missing when deciding luck.

When it comes to Eli Manning, what I did was look back at every game going to 2005 where he had the ball in his hands inside the two minute warning, either tied or trailing by 8 or less. There have been 31 times, including this past Sunday against Washington. Twelve of them have come in the last 23 games, an astonishing rate.

To analyze those games, I used the win probability calculator to calculate two different events. First, the chances of winning when the Giants took possession with a 1st and 10, on the drive that would end inside the two minute warning. The chances in each case, of course, depend on the score, time remaining, and field position. The second is the chances of winning after the offense relinquishes the ball (either by scoring a touchdown, attempting a field goal, turning the ball over, or punting).

The difference between those two show us how much the Giants chances of winning improved or lessened with Eli Manning at quarterback, relative to a league average performance in those situation. Now, here’s the interesting thing. Look at his performance divided into three eras–the first three (non-rookie) regular seasons, before he had any reputation in big games; the 2007 postseason run through 2010; and the last two years, when he has been on fire in clutch situations.

That first column is the number of opportunities, then the expected wins before the offense begins, the expected wins after they relinquish possession, and the actual wins.

For example, we would have expected the average team to win 3.8 of the 12 games where they started with the score, time, and field position as the Giants. New York won 7, and that was pretty much in line with what we should expect after the Giants finished their drives in each case.

So, yes, Eli has played really well of late, with the Giants winning more than half the games where they had a two minute situation trailing by one possession or tied. Yes, that first Super Bowl run and the years that followed also featured games where the Giants should have been expected to win half based on where Eli left them.

Even before the Super Bowls, Eli Manning led drives that should have resulted in wins in half those opportunities, even though the actual results fell short of that.

What’s going on here? Well, let’s first point out that at a time when some “comebacks” can be of the questionable variety, where a QB gets credit when the defense intercepts and sets a team up, or a special teams play is the impetus, these comebacks are almost entirely on the offense. The average starting point was the Giants own 25. They are not generally the product of other positive factors outside of the offense’s control.

As for why the expected wins are even higher than the already impressive actual wins in these situations, it’s mostly kickers. The combination of Jay Feely and Lawrence Tynes are 3 for 6 on field goals at the end of a two minute drill. One make was a chip shot that was basically an extra point. The miss three weeks ago against Philadelphia was a 54 yard attempt, basically a 50/50 proposition. The others were from between 35 and 40 yards, where kickers make about 83%, but the Giants kickers went 2 for 4. Sprinkle in a few late drives allowed in the final minute by the defense, mostly pre-2008, and Eli Manning’s clutch play was muted.

It was there, though, and has been pretty consistent. All that has changed is how frequently the opportunities are there, and how much we notice.

[photo via US Presswire]

 

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