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Thursday, January 19, 2012
Eli Manning's interceptions have been bad

By John Parolin

Eli Manning
Manning
By most accounts, Eli Manning has had a great year for a quarterback. Manning’s 8.4 yards per attempt and 26 plays of at least 30 yards both ranked him fifth in the league among qualified quarterbacks. A look at Manning’s numbers a year ago suggest significant improvement, particularly in ball control.

In 2010, Manning threw a league-high 25 interceptions in 539 attempts, or one interception every 21.6 throws. This season, Manning threw only 16 interceptions in 589 attempts, or one every 36.8 throws. That’s a significant improvement in the volume of interceptions Manning has thrown this year, but what about the value?

The average Manning interception caused a -13.1 swing in win probability this season, while the NFL average interception causes a -8.8 swing.

No team had a worse average win-probability-per-interception than the New York Giants, meaning the average Giants interception has been more game-changing than a pick thrown by any other team. This is a direct reflection of interceptions in bad spots and at bad times.

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 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.

Manning’s ability to be more judicious with his throws will be crucial on Sunday. The 49ers are among the NFL’s most opportunistic secondaries, with 22 interceptions by defensive backs this season (second in NFL). Manning has made great strides this season as a passer, but Sunday will be a good measure of just how far he’s come.

-- ESPN Stats & Info's Albert Larcada contributed to this post