>The Frustrations of Eli Manning.

>The “Manning face” has already been extensively chronicled by Bill Simmons, so I’m not going to discuss the actual face itself here. Briefly, “The Manning Face” is the mixture of disgust and frustration that often appears on Eli and Peyton’s faces. It can be consistently seen on Eli’s face after an interception or third-down incompletion, usually when the FOX camera cuts to him unstrapping his helmet as he walks to the sideline, looking like he showed up five minutes early to catch a train only to find out it already left without him.

Peyton still makes the face occasionally, but he now plays at such a high level that the face just makes appearances when a back misses a blocking assignment or when he’s thirsty and can’t find a paper cup on the sideline. Peyton’s “Manning Face”, because he no longer makes mistakes, is usually reserved for the failings of others. Eli will occasionally make the face when a receiver makes a different read than the one he did, but Eli Manning tends to reserve his displays of annoyance for the thing most responsible for all his frustrations: Eli Manning’s right arm.

Eli Manning has an ongoing on again/off again relationship with his right arm. He knows how to make all the reads, he knows where to throw the ball so only his receiver can catch it, knows when to step up and when to throw it away, and, unlike Peyton, he always knows where the paper cups are on the sideline. Eli is probably behind only his brother, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees in terms of mental proficiency at the quarterback position, but for four or five games every season, his right arm goes all Mr. Hyde on him and starts unleashing throws that make Tim Wakefield proud, throws that roughly follow the trajectory of a shot quail. Eli Manning sees an open Steve Smith and knows he has to hit his back shoulder, but Eli Manning’s right arm decides that it’s time to bring out the old knuckle-curve. After the throw is inevitable picked off and returned for a touchdown, Eli glances at his right hand in the same way baseball players sometimes examine their gloves after committing an error*, muttering to himself, “My dad was a NFL quarterback, my brother is a NFL quarterback, and now I’m a NFL quarterback. I’ve done this all my life, I know exactly what to do and how to do it, and I still can’t throw a damn spiral. This is all your fault, arm.”

*I swear Alex Rodriguez does this every time a ball rolls under his glove. He checks it for holes every time, because he’s Alex Rodriguez and it couldn’t possibly be his fault, yet he always looks genuinely surprised when he sees that his glove is in perfect condition. He may have shaken the choker monicker and that Madonna thing, but he nevertheless remains an extremely odd character.

The relationship between Eli Manning and his right arm is like the relationship between an elderly Art History professor and his projector, only the battle between professor and projector tends to be more one-sided. The professor needs the projector to display his slideshows, but the frustration he feels with technology is the same kind that Eli Manning feels with his right arm. For all his Ph.Ds, all the books he’s written, all the years he’s spent teaching, the professor remains utterly helpless against the wrath of the projector, and as smoke billows from his laptop and he is forced to cancel yet another class because IT cannot figure out how he managed to change the projector’s default language to Burmese, the professor feels the same maddening helplessness that Eli Manning feels whenever his arm betrays him.

Here are Eli’s arm slump numbers from the past three years:
2009 weeks 6-8: 53-107 (49.5%), 3 TD, 6 INT
2008 weeks 14 on (inc. playoffs): 74-137 (54%), 2 TD, 4 INT
2007 weeks 12-16: 79-174 (45.4%), 4 TD, 8 INT

Eli is usually good for one multi-game streak a year where he’ll throw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns, but the good news for Eli is that these slumps tend to last four or five games at the most and it looks like he’s just turned the corner again, so there remains hope for the Giants’ playoff dreams. Yes, Brandon Jacobs is running straight up for some reason, the defense is struggling with the schemes under their new coordinator, and they seems to lose two players to injury whenever one returns, but after Sunday’s victory over the Falcons, Eli’s arm appears to finally be back from its yearly sabbatical (384 yds, 3 TDs) and ready to carry the Giants. The New York Giants live and die with the right arm of Eli Manning. In 2008, the arm decided that it felt like starting the offseason early, and the Giants were eliminated by the Eagles in the divisional round. In 2007, despite fighting with Eli all December, the two reconciled in time for the playoffs and together they carried the Giants all the way to a Super Bowl victory.

Eli and his arm are like Simon and Garfunkel: lots of tension and breakups, but they have moments of absolute brilliance when they are together. Eli Manning’s arm is the key to the Giants success, and Giants fans can only hope that the only living boy in New York and his right arm will cease to shake their confidence daily, and will keep the customer satisfied like a bridge over troubled waters in America. Mrs. Robinson. Scarborough Fair/Canticle. At the Zoo.

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