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Eli Manning's "Foolish" Interceptions Come From the Same Mentality That Produced Winning Plays

Eli Manning threw two bad interceptions in last Sunday’s loss to Cincinnati, and has struggled in the last three games (54 of 99 for 532 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions). Talk of a “dead arm” has arisen, which Eli Manning has denied. Phil Simms has piled on, waiting for this week to pounce with talk of Eli not being elite.

We always have to have a reason for every struggle in sports, when often, it can be things such as random variation in the individual athlete’s performance, as well as outside forces such as teammate injuries or performance. Tom Coughlin referred to Eli Manning’s interception in the second half as “foolish.” Coughlin, I will point out, has benefitted from Eli Manning making foolish plays that worked out in the past, sometimes in key moments.

Just how foolish were they, particularly the second interception?

Well, first, let’s talk about Eli Manning and his passing personality. One of the most fun projects I worked on was doing Passer Personality Types three years ago, where I looked at career numbers and created a Meyers-Briggs type test to divide quarterbacks.

Eli Manning came out as a “Bomber-Fun-Vulture-Gambler” (and you’ll have to read that post to make sense of that), and in fact, came out as an extreme personality type, right next to Tony Romo and Terry Bradshaw in that personality type. Here’s how I described it:

These guys take what the defense gives them, too—if you consider that patch of green behind the last safety something the defense is giving them. The BFVG’s are the quintessential gunslingers. When they are on, they can combine with a running game to provide quick strike scores and rip the heart out of the opponent. When they are off, they can rip their own fans’ hearts out with costly interceptions and lots of incompletions. Apparently, they can also change their stripes and win with great defenses . . .

It’s interesting that Eli Manning and Terry Bradshaw, two guys now known for winning titles, come up in the same range as Tony Romo, someone derided for not having “it”, when it comes to their passer personality. Specific to Eli, though, the lesson is this: he’s a gambler, he doesn’t take sacks, and he is looking to make plays.

He’s been that way, so for those calling those the dumbest decisions you have ever seen, you probably forgot this one sandwiched between Super Bowl wins #1 and #2, where he actually threw a pass under pressure with his left hand.

I mean, really? But you know what that is, someone with the same mindset who accomplished this in another key moment, with pressure all around him and throwing into an area with multiple defenders:

 

The same mentality which led to those throws Sunday when trailing and under pressure, and to trying a left handed pass, also resulted in one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl History.

How “foolish” were those throws on Sunday? Well, in a results business, of course, they are foolish in retrospect. Let’s analyze the situations, though.

The first one came on first down, trailing 17-6 in the third quarter. He was under pressure, and got his arm hit as he tried to pass. That’s one where the defender made the play to hit the arm. Foolish to try it there? Well, down by 11, it’s nowhere near as foolish as up by 11. The Bengals scored three plays later to make it 24-6.

On the next one, he tried to throw a pass under pressure again. It looks really bad as he unleashes a pass into an area where multiple defenders are waiting. Then again, it was 3rd and 5, and his team trailed by 18 with less than 6 minutes left in the third quarter. He could have held it there, taken the sack, and punted on 4th and long. He could have thrown it out of bounds there intentionally. Either way, the Bengals get the ball back with a huge lead.

According to Advanced NFL Stats Win Probability Calculator, the chances of winning after the second interception were 2%. Had he taken a sack instead, and the Bengals taken over 30 yards downfield, it would have been 3%. A 7 yard gain on a desperation throw and a first down, on the other hand, would have boosted it to 5%.

Think about that for a second. A simple five yard pickup for a first down was way more valuable than a turnover was costly there. Even if he was twice as likely to throw the pick than get the pass through, it was a decent gamble to make given the score and time remaining.

Eli Manning is a gambler, and this week, you got the bad with the good. After the bye, you may just get the good again. He might even make a play under pressure that is brilliant rather than foolish, based entirely on how it turns out.

[photo via US Presswire]

 

 

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