- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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Through the first 10 games of the 2011 season, the Giants’ offense has had one dimension: quarterback Eli Manning.
The Giants currently rank 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game (83.2) and last in yards per carry (3.16) -- their lowest totals in those categories since 1945 and 1953.
But they still could find themselves tied for first place in the NFC East with a win over New Orleans on Monday night because Manning has elevated his game to another level. No wonder he’s considered a dark-horse in the MVP race.
Manning currently ranks among the top 10 in the league in completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns and quarterback rating, and has thrown less than one interception per game. And he's done all of it without any semblance of a ground attack.
“What has been impressive about his season to date is despite them not having the same numbers they would like [running the ball], he has been very consistent and very productive and a big reason why they are having success this year,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, whose 7-3 team will take on Manning’s reeling 6-4 Giants, who have lost two straight to open the second half in New Orleans on Monday night.
Ask anyone in the Giants locker room, and they’ll tell you the same thing: Their offense -- even with playmakers like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz -- would be nothing without “Eli-te” Manning.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau -- courtesy of the Giants -- nine teams averaged 82.3 or fewer rushing yards from 2005-10. Six of those nine teams finished with losing records. Only Peyton Manning’s 2008 and 2009 Colts (79.6, 88.9) and Kurt Warner’s 2008 Cardinals (73.6) were able to overcome their deficiencies on the ground through the air.
The ‘08 Colts finished fifth in passing, while the ’08 Cardinals and ’09 Colts both finished second -- and later advanced to the Super Bowl. The 2011 Giants currently rank fifth in that category (281.4), and are on pace to shatter their franchise record of 251.2, set back in 2009.
There’s just one problem: no team in NFL history has ever made the playoffs averaging fewer than 3.2 yards per carry. The ’05 and ’06 Cardinals (3.16, 3.19) both finished 5-11, while the ’07 Bears (3.14) finished 7-9.
Starter Ahmad Bradshaw remains on the mend from a fractured foot, Brandon Jacobs continues to pout about being booed, D.J. Ware just suffered a concussion and the offensive line isn’t going to add a vintage Shaun O’Hara or Rich Seubert, so don’t expect those dismal numbers to improve anytime soon. The point is, it's up to Manning to buck the trend.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees empathizes with Manning’s offensive plight.
“That’s tough,” Brees conceded. “The more balanced you are, the better you’re running the football, typically that opens up a lot of opportunities in the passing game and allows you to be more balanced and have more success. I think the Giants have always had a great reputation of being able to rush the football.”
Last season, Bradshaw rushed for 1,235 yards by himself. But this season, the Giants are on pace to rush for 1,331 as a team.
“I know they work extremely hard and they have a lot of confidence,” Manning said of the offensive line. “They expect to go out there and play at a high level.”
They might. The only problem is, no one else does.
But everyone does expect Eli Manning to play at a high level. So far, he has.
And on Monday night, he’ll have another chance to boost his MVP chances -- with or without his running game.
TEAMS TO AVERAGE 83.2 RUSHING YARDS OR FEWER SINCE 2005
Year Team Avg W-L
2005 New York Jets 83.00 4-12
2005 Arizona Cardinals 71.13 5-11
2006 Detroit Lions 70.56 3-13
2007 Chicago Bears 83.13 7-9
2007 Detroit Lions 80.50 7-9
2007 Kansas City Chiefs 78.00 4-12
2008 Indianapolis Colts 79.63 12-4
2008 Arizona Cardinals 73.63 9-7
2009 Indianapolis Colts 80.88 14-2
2011 Tennessee Titans 77.30 5-5
2011 New York Giants 83.20 6-4
TEAMS TO AVERAGE FEWER THAN 3.2 YARDS PER RUSH SINCE 2005
Year Team Avg W-L
2005 Arizona Cardinals 3.16 5-11
2006 Arizona Cardinals 3.19 5-11
2007 Chicago Bears 3.14 7-9
2011 New York Giants 3.16 6-4