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Thursday, January 19, 2012
Of Eli Manning and interceptions

By Dan Graziano

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Now that we've seen Eli Manning practice Thursday, and New York Giants fans can breathe easier about the stomach bug that knocked him out of Wednesday's practice, we can get back to talking about his rather significant role in Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the 49ers in San Francisco.

I keep thinking turnovers could be the key to this game. The 49ers committed only 10 in the regular season, which is incredible, and had 38 takeaways. Manning threw two interceptions in the Week 10 game in San Francisco, and the Giants lost by a touchdown. So if Manning, who threw nine fewer interceptions this year in 50 more attempts than he had in 2010, can take care of the ball, I figure it's going to have a major positive impact on the Giants' ability to win the game.

I'm not alone. ESPN's Stats & Information blog has a piece up on the significance of Manning's 2011 interceptions. According to them, Manning's average interception this year caused a 13.1-point drop in the Giants' win probability -- the worst such figure of any quarterback on any team in the NFL this year:
Take Week 10, for example, a game in San Francisco against Sunday’s opponent in the NFC Championship. With 13:31 left in the game, an Alex Smith-to-Vernon Davis touchdown pass had just given the 49ers a 20-13 lead. Two plays later, Manning threw an interception to Carlos Rogers on 2nd-and-7 from his own 14. Rogers’ second interception of the game gave the San Francisco 49ers the ball on the Giants’ 17, and Kendall Hunter scored on the very next play. The 49ers won 27-20.

While Manning can’t be punished for Hunter’s touchdown run, his interception alone dropped New York’s chance of winning by 6.4 percent. As bad as that play was -- a fourth-quarter interception inside his own 20 down by a touchdown on the road -- that was the 12th-worst of Manning’s 16 interceptions.

The worst came in Week 5 against the Seattle Seahawks, when Manning was picked off by Brandon Browner with 1:25 left in the fourth quarter on the Seattle 10. Browner went 94 yards to paydirt, and New York’s chances of winning the game plummeted by 53.5 percent.

I don't think this says as much about Manning and poor timing as it does about how important Manning and his responsibility with the ball has been to the Giants' success this year. For much of the season, the Giants had no running game and a very poor defense and counted on Manning to win games in large part by himself. So it would stand to reason that a Manning interception would have a severe negative impact on the team's chances of winning.

If the weather forecasts hold up and it's rainy and muddy and sloppy on Sunday in San Francisco, the chances of turnovers both ways likely goes up. That would make it even more important for the Giants to stay away from them, since a large part of the 49ers' game appears to be based on forcing them and not committing any.