Throughout the years, whenever Eli Manning has been asked about his durability as a quarterback, he’s pointed to a very underrated skill. For most of his career, which is now at 201 consecutive regular-season starts, he’s been able to avoid big hits. Most of the times he was brought down by a defender it was with a glancing blow, nothing direct to the body, and rarely with a player landing directly on top of him.
That seems to be changing.
While the number of hits on Manning has been a concern for the Giants so far this season — he has been sacked eight times through two games and has taken a lot of hits even when not sacked — it is the ferocity of those shots that should really have them worrying. In both of the Giants’ games so far Manning has taken hits that make you wonder if he will get up from them.
So far he has, but how long will it last for a 36-year-old quarterback?
“You can go several weeks without taking a big hit and then sometimes you’ll get a bunch in a game,” Manning said on Wednesday. “It’s just about hanging in there and being tough.”
The worst hit Manning took on Monday against the Lions came when he was creamed on a busted screen play. He was crushed by lineman Cornelius Washington but somehow managed to get off a pass that was completed to Sterling Shepard for a first down.
“Usually it’s the ones when you’re throwing that end up being the biggest hits,” Manning said. “When you haven’t thrown yet, or you see it coming, those are the ones that aren’t as bad. Usually when you’re in the throwing motion, then that’s when you’re most vulnerable to get a good shot.”
Not everyone is shrugging off those bone-crushers, or the perception of who is to blame for them. Former Giant Tiki Barber said on his radio program “Tiki and Tierney” this week that if the Giants keep left tackle Ereck Flowers at his position, “then Eli Manning might be in a body bag three weeks from now.”
“The Philadelphia Eagles’ defense is really good, and they get after the quarterback,” Barber said. “If Ereck Flowers is allowed to protect Eli Manning’s backside any longer, Eli is going to get killed . . . He cannot be on Eli’s backside. He is going to get Eli killed.”
Manning defended his protection.
“These guys, the offensive line, I’m not worried about them,” Manning said. “They’ll do their jobs and they’ll give us enough time.”
Manning still seems to have an awareness of avoiding some of the more dangerous situations on the field. There was one sack on Monday night, with the pocket collapsing, where he simply fell to the ground and gave himself up without so much as a shove from a defensive lineman.
But then there are the ones that caused the near fumble on the second play of the game against the Lions, or the one on the third play of the game against Dallas when DeMarcus Lawrence jumped on him.
“I don’t think anybody could ever doubt his toughness,” Ben McAdoo said of Manning.
No one is. But toughness can’t stave off the types of injuries that come from such explosive hits and sideline quarterbacks throughout the NFL on a weekly basis. He may be the Giants’ Man of Steel, but that’s just a nickname not a medical designation. He’s still soft flesh and brittle bone.
“I think over time it can definitely take a physical toll,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson, a former NFL quarterback, said in regard to his own team’s situation where Carson Wentz has been hit a league-high 19 times so far and sacked eight.
As Manning heads to Philadelphia this week, the site of what most consider to be the hardest hit he has every taken in his career when Jerome McDougal blindsided him as a rookie quarterback in 2004, he understands that even if the offensive line plays perfectly there will still likely be sacks in his future.
“I’ve played in NFC Championship games where I got sacked six times,” he said. “That’s just part of it.”
Now, though, more than in the past, so is waiting to make sure that Manning gets up from them.