Few venture where Eli goes: Deep vs. 49ers

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
3:20
PM ET

Michael Zagaris/Getty ImagesEli Manning completed over 53 percent of his passes traveling at least 15 yards downfield against the 49ers split-safety defense last season. The rest of the league completed less than 37 percent.
The San Francisco 49ers' secondary has been tough to beat this season, and teams have shied away from testing it downfield, as the average pass by San Francisco's opponent is traveling 6.9 yards downfield, third-lowest in the league.

Eli Manning presents the 49ers secondary with a unique challenge, as he has attempted 200 passes 15 or more yards downfield over the last two seasons, most in the league.

Manning was willing to test the 49ers defense on downfield throws in their two meetings last season, and specifically had success against their split-safety defense. Split-safety defense is defined as two deep safeties in pass coverage, with the purpose of helping on deep routes.

In those two games last season, Manning completed 8-of-15 (53.3 percent) passes traveling at least 15 yards downfield when the 49ers had two deep safeties. The rest of the league has completed less than 37 percent of such passes against that defense, averaging just a little more than one completion per game.

In the NFC Championship Game, Manning completed five passes against the 49ers split-safety defense on throws 15 or more yards downfield, including a 17-yard go-ahead TD to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter. That is the most such completions against the 49ers’ split-safety defense in a game over the last two seasons (including postseason).

The 49ers defense once again boasts a shutdown secondary, limiting QBs to a league-low 5.8 yards per attempt this season. Taking away deep throws continues to be a strength, as they have allowed opponents to complete 4-of-13 (30.8 percent) passes for 96 yards, including an interception when their split-safety defense is tested 15 or more yards downfield.

What have Manning and the New York Giants done differently to have success downfield? The Giants spread the 49ers secondary out by running vertical routes, and Manning had the arm strength to make tough throws downfield. The Giants had three receivers running routes at least 15 yards downfield on three of Manning’s five completions traveling that distance against the 49ers two deep safety look in the NFC Championship Game.

While Manning delivered with big throws against the 49ers vaunted split-safety defense, stretching their defense vertically left him vulnerable to pressure. Manning was sacked, under duress, or hit while throwing on 21 dropbacks in the NFC Championship. That is the most dropbacks Manning has been under such pressure over the last two seasons.

We know Eli can test the 49ers defense downfield, but can Manning handle the pressure again?

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