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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Ben McAdoo stops opponents from picking on Eli Manning

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants throws a pass in the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015 in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The statistic is so out of character, you have to look at it twice just to make sure it's accurate.

Eli Manning has two Super Bowl MVP awards in his trophy case and owns just about every meaningful passing record in Giants history. But the 33-year-old quarterback also has had a career-long penchant for throwing interceptions. So to see him with only one pick after the first month of the season? Doing a double-take is simply unavoidable.

But there it is. In the first four games, he threw seven touchdown passes and only one interception -- and that turnover came with the game well in hand in the fourth quarter of a 24-10 win over the Bills.

So this West Coast offense really has made a difference for Manning, who might never completely escape his turnover issues but is more efficient under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.

It's still not perfect, though, as evidenced by a critical interception at the end of the first half Sunday night against the 49ers. Manning had a chance to put the Giants up 20-6 at halftime but forced a throw to Odell Beckham Jr. in the end zone and was intercepted by Tramaine Brock.

Avoiding interceptions was one of the biggest factors when Tom Coughlin decided to change direction when looking for a new coordinator after Kevin Gilbride retired following the 2013 season. Gibride had been with Manning from the start of his career and presided over both Super Bowl victories during an impressive decade of work. But as dynamic as Gilbride's system could be, its reliance on deeper routes left Manning vulnerable to interceptions.

And there were a ton of them.

Before McAdoo took over the offense in 2014, Manning threw 171 interceptions in his first 10 seasons, an average of 17.1 per year. Last season, he threw only 14, tied for the second-lowest in his career.

Manning also has stayed away from throwing interceptions in bunches. From 2004-13, there were only two instances when he went three straight games without an interception. In 20 games under McAdoo, Manning already has done that twice; he went four straight games without throwing a pick last year and didn't throw an interception in the first three games this season. That marked the first time in franchise history that a quarterback had a clean sheet of interceptions in the first three games.

Of course, there were other issues at play in the first two games. Manning had a brain cramp about the Cowboys' timeouts in a season-opening loss in Dallas and then lost a key fumble in the third quarter the following week against the Falcons. There were no costly mistakes the next two weeks in wins over Washington and the Bills, helping the Giants recover from their 0-2 start and inject themselves into the NFC East race.

Coughlin used the word "relevant" to describe his team's standing after the impressive road win over the Bills, and he's spot on with that description. Consider: Heading into Sunday night's game against the 49ers, every team in the NFC East had two wins, meaning the Giants had a shot to move into sole possession of first place with a win over San Francisco. A loss, and they'd still be in a four-way tie with their divisional opponents at 2-3.

Manning obviously is thrilled at the quick recovery from the rough start but mindful of remaining consistent in his approach.

"I think we have to prepare the same way," he said. "We have to understand that just a few weeks ago, we had to grind to get out of that circumstance. I think that's the kind of way San Francisco is going to be coming in. They're fighting and they're going to grind to get a win and we have to match that same intensity. Our preparation has to be great and we have to come out playing hard and playing determined to keep this thing going to get a win."

And what would it be like to actually have a winning record at this point in the season, something that has escaped the Giants the last two seasons?

"Obviously, that'd be great," Manning said. "We got two in a row, and we have to keep it going on Sunday night. Play good football, get to the fourth quarter and then play our best football and get the win."

It's a formula the Giants' coaches stress repeatedly, and the Giants have responded by taking the lead into the fourth quarter in all four games. They failed the first two occasions and won the next two heading into Sunday night.

As long as Manning keeps his mistakes to a minimum -- and the West Coast system with its quick, safe passing plays certainly makes that easier -- the team will continue to remain relevant in a divisional race that looks as if it won't be decided anytime soon.


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