Keidel: Can Eli Manning Become Reliable For Giants Again?

5 Burning Questions As Big Blue Opens Training Camp

Jason Keidel
July 24, 2019 - 10:56 am
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The NFL breaks the huddle on the 2019 season today, with most full-squad training camps opening July 24, including the Giants. As is the case with any club coming off a 5-11 season, the G-Men have more questions than answers. Of course, there are more than five questions you can ask about Big Blue's chances this year. But here are a handful that might tickle your football bone.

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How good is Eli Manning?

There will be much debate over his place in NFL history, but there is no doubting Eli Manning's place in Giants history as the best quarterback the club has ever had. The problem is too often we view Eli through an old prism. If we change lenses, we may see a QB in decay, far from his former eminence. It's hard to measure him professionally because he's been so easy to love personally. Thus, the Giants struggle between verbs "was" and "is." Eli was every bit the QB Ernie Accorsi prayed for when the Giants drafted him in 2004. He's not that guy now.

Manning averaged 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions over the last two years. But he also completed a career-best 66% of his passes last season and amassed 4,299 passing yards – his most since 2015. He won't be confused for Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes, but unlike those two gunslingers, Manning has an all-world running back behind him and an improving line in front of him, both essential for a wooden-legged QB like No. 10.

We used to joke about the bipolar nature of Eli's game, wondering if the "Good Eli" or "Bad Eli" would show up next Sunday. The Giants would probably settle for “Decent Eli,” if he still has that gear.

How will the departure of Odell Beckham Jr. impact the team?

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While some of us saw the wisdom in keeping the talented but tortured wideout, we also saw the prudence in dealing him to Cleveland. Two draft picks plus Jabril Peppers is a nice haul for a headache that was morphing into a migraine. Beckham also missed half of the team's last 32 games, so they're used to playing without him. Next man up is the NFL's mantra. While the Giants have nobody with Beckham's ability, there are always overlooked and underrated people looking for that shot (Victor Cruz, anyone?). Jerry Recco said he spoke with two men who worked with Beckham, one loved him and the other not so much. Perhaps the perfect microcosm. The Giants should forget about Beckham before the summer ends.

When will Daniel Jones start?

A question to be answered on the field. We just don't know when. Eli has the indestructible “Manning DNA,” and thinks he's still a baller. So, the only thing that can unseat the Southern prince of New Jersey will be the team's record. If the Giants start 3-1, then Jones better get used to clutching that clipboard. But if they stumble out to 1-5, Jones will become more popular on both banks of the Hudson since Sully landed that jet.

Jones was a curious pick at No. 6, as no well-known pundit had him ranked that high. A Duke QB has never been drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, and Todd McShay had Jones ranked 59th among college prospects. But he's here and, at some seminal moment, Jones will be the Giants' starting quarterback.

Replacing a player of Manning's heft proved to be difficult last time when he was benched for a backup for one game. The Giants could not have handled the benching worse or picked a worse QB for whom Eli was benched -- Geno Smith. Daniel Jones is no Geno Smith. We think. When can he prove it?

Can the Giants play defense?

They will take the field, if that counts. As a unit, the Big Blue's defense hemorrhaged 5,942 yards in 2018, which ranked 24th in the NFL. It's unfair to blame a particular part of the defense, as the entire unit stunk. The Giants ranked 20th against the rush (118.6 YPG) and 23rd against the pass (252.8 YPG). So naturally, they were 23rd in points allowed per game (25.8).

The G-Men shed the shards of their last playoff team, parting ways with stalwart defenders Damon "Snacks" Harrison, Olivier Vernon, and homegrown Pro Bowl defensive back Landon Collins. They landed the talented Peppers - whom they hope will be their next Landon Collins - and drafted human roadblock Dexter Lawrence, who helped Clemson win a national title. Helping Lawrence on the defensive line is Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill, who posted 5.5 sacks in 12 starts last season.

Behind the beefy line will be veteran linebacker Alec Ogletree, promising sophomore Lorenzo Carter, Kareem Martin, and B.J. Goodson. Joining the returning LBs are newcomers Markus Golden and Oshane Ximines. Big Blue needs a big year from Golden, who notched 12.5 sacks with the Cardinals in 2016 before snapping the ACL in his right knee. Golden will hopefully provide the pass rush they won't get from Josh Allen, whom the Giants ignored in the draft to bag Daniel Jones.

Not exactly Brad Van Pelt, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, and Lawrence Taylor; so the Giants need health and a hearty young group to step up and help an offense that isn't winning too many shootouts.

In the secondary, the Giants will rely on some mutation of Peppers, Antoine Bethea, Janoris Jenkins, and Sam Beal, plus draft picks Deandre Baker and Julian Love. Hardly the 2000 Ravens, but Big Blue's new-look secondary received praise from Pro Football Focus, who says the unit is among the three most-improved in the league.

Can Saquon Barkley match last year's success?

If the NFL couldn't stop Barkley when he was a rookie, as he was trying to learn the structure and speed of the pro game, then he should be better now. Last year, Barkley smashed through the rookie wall that has stiff-armed so many rushers - such as James Conner last year - becoming only the third first-year player to gain over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, just behind Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James for most all-time. Even those of us who scratched our scalps over the Giants taking Barkley over Sam Darnold had to marvel at the RB's “Swiss Army Knife” skill set.

Not only is he obscenely talented, but Barkley is also absurdly modest and perfectly contoured for the Big Apple media. Maybe it helps that he's from the Bronx. Maybe it helps that he's just an incredible football player.

Perhaps the halfback position has been diluted these days, but Barkley doubles as the team's best player and ambassador-in-waiting once Eli hangs up his cleats. He is what fans and the Giants wanted from Beckham, sans the Page Six personality. As a youngster, Barkley worshiped Curtis Martin, which explains his impossible blend of hunger and humility. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.