EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Numbers are not what moves or drives him, but the New York Giants' Eli Manning is a quarterback who knows his stats. And when I asked him before practice Friday what he was hoping to improve on, personally, in 2013, his answer came quickly.
"Completion percentage," he said.
So of course I went and looked it up, and sure enough, that number has dropped in each of the past two regular seasons for Manning. From a career-high 62.9 in 2010, he dropped to 61.0 in 2011 and 59.9 in 2012 -- his first season under 60 percent since 2007. Doesn't sound like much, but it works out to 15 more incompletions in 2012 than in 2010, which is about one per game. And when you're a team that either makes or misses the playoffs by a game every year, of course that matters.
But while Manning is a guy who knows his numbers, he's not one for short answers, and he did keep talking more specifically after his initial response.
"Being more accurate and better on our deep balls," he said. "Our big plays were down last year, and that's a big part of our offense. We're going to use play-action, we're going to get the ball down the field. We're not scared about pushing the ball down the field. But it's good when it pays off and you hit big plays and game-changing plays. Last year, I think we had opportunities to hit them and we just didn't hit them. So I think that's what we've got to get better at, is just kind of connecting on some of those deep balls."
I asked him how he works on that, and he went back to the simple answer.
"Just throw 'em," he said. "Just throw a lot of 'em. I think a big part of it is not having Hakeem [Nicks] at full strength and full speed. We didn't have him on many big plays. Victor [Cruz] does a great job in the slot, and we have Rueben Randle and Louis Murphy on the outside now. But some of it is just me throwing the ball more accurately so a guy can catch it and run and take a 10-yard pass and, because it's accurate, turn it into a 20-yard, 30-yard gain. So I think you've got to keep throwing them with that faith that your guys can go get them."
So yeah, Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP to whom numbers are of secondary importance behind team success. But he's pretty clearly bothered that last year's completion percentage started with a 5, and one of the things he's determined to do this year is turn that number back into a 6.