The Clutch Enigma: Eli Manning’s Playoff Performances

Kyle Rodriguez moves to Eli Manning in his continuing evaluation of clutch quarterback play.

After examining the pressure performances by Tom Brady last week (here and here), this week we turn our attention to Eli Manning.

While “Little Brother” has shown flashes of the Manning genes in the past, he’s generally been seen as inconsistent, frustrating player. However, after his stellar season in 2011, capped off by an incredible Super Bowl run, Eli’s legacy has been vaulted to near Hall of Fame worthy levels by some members of the media (and fans). Critics point to Manning’s mediocre career totals, while proponents point to his two Super Bowl rings and clutch play (a.k.a. “He just wins big games”).

That second part is the part that’s questionable, and the part that would vault Manning to the upper echelon of quarterbacks during this era. So, has Manning’s play in pressure situations truly been exceptional, or is this merely another misconception?

To answer that question, we’ll again look at Manning in two parts, his playoff performances and his situational statistics. Today will be just the playoff performances, with the situational statistics and a final conclusion coming later this week.

Regular Season Statistics

Year Games Comp. % Y/A Yards/Game Touchdowns (%) Interceptions (%) Sack Rate QB Rating
2004 9 48.2% 5.29 115.9 6 (3.05%) 9 (4.57%) 6.19% 55.4
2005 16 52.8% 6.75 235.1 24 (4.31%) 17 (3.05%) 4.79% 75.9
2006 16 57.6% 6.21 202.75 24 (4.6%) 18 (3.45%) 4.57% 77
2007 16 56.1% 6.31 208.5 23 (4.35%) 20 (3.78%) 4.86% 73.9
2008 16 60.3% 6.76 202.4 21 (4.38%) 10 (2.09%) 5.34% 84.6
2009 16 62.3% 7.90 251.3 27 (5.3%) 14 (2.75%) 5.57% 93.1
2010 16 62.9% 7.42 250.1 31 (5.75%) 25 (4.64%) 2.88% 85.3
2011 16 60.95% 8.38 308.3 29 (4.92%) 16 (2.72%) 4.54% 92.9
Totals 121 58.43% 7.03 227.9 185 (4.72%) 129 (3.29%) 4.71% 82.1
Totals w/o 2011 105 57.98% 6.80 209.4 156 (4.68%) 113 (3.39%) 4.75% 80.2

Playoff Statistics

Year Games Comp. % Y/A Yards/Game Touchdowns (%) Interceptions (%) Sack Rate QB Rating
2004 0 - - - - - - -
2005 1 55.56% 6.28 113 0 (0%) 3 (16.67%) 18.18% 35
2006 1 59.26% 5.96 161 2 (7.41%) 1 (3.7%) 3.57% 85.6
2007 4 60.50% 7.18 213.5 6 (5.04%) 1 (0.84%) 7.03% 95.7
2008 1 51.72% 5.83 169 0 (0%) 2 (6.9%) 0% 40.7
2009 0 - - - - - - -
2010 0 - - - - - - -
2011 4 65.03% 7.48 304.75 9 (5.52%) 1 (0.61%) 6.32% 103.3
Totals 11 61.52% 7.07 228.7 17 (4.78%) 8 (2.25%) 6.56% 89.3
Totals w/o 2011 7 58.55% 6.72 185.3 8 (4.15%) 7 (3.63%) 6.76% 77.73

Now, normally I have a problem with excluding parts of a player’s career when analyzing them, but I think it’s important to realize how good Manning’s 2011 playoffs were.

But we’ll get to that. When you look at Manning’s stats, it’s clear to see that the last four years have been his best, yet he has only led his team to the playoffs in two of those years. His play (overall) was slightly below average for the first four years of his career, but since 2008 it has been above average.

When comparing Manning’s playoff stats to his regular season stats, it seems at first that he has performed better in the playoffs than in the regular season, with over a seven point advantage in quarterback rating. However, when one looks at the playoffs without 2011, Manning’s numbers in the playoffs look much worse, and worse than his already mediocre career numbers for the regular season. 

Looking specifically at his playoff games, Manning has gone to the playoffs five times. Three of those occasions, the Giants lost the first game. On two of those occasions, (2005 and 2008) Manning was terrible, posting ratings of 35.0 and 40.7. In 2006, Manning was decent, and even led his team on a game-tying touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. But the Giants wouldn’t see the ball again, and the Eagles kicked the game winning field goal as time expired. 

That leaves 2007 and 2011 as the two remaining trips to the playoffs. In 2007, Manning had two great games against the Bucs and Cowboys, and then mediocre games against the Packers and Patriots. Of course, Manning was very good in the fourth quarter of those games, going 15/24 for two touchdowns (both in the Super Bowl). In the Green Bay game, he led the team on two potentially game winning drives, but Lawrence Tynes missed 36 and 43 yard field goals. Fortunately, he made a 47 yarder in overtime (where Manning did nothing) to win. 

In 2011, Manning was great in every game but the NFC Championship, where he was decent against a very good defense. The playoffs Manning had in 2011 were fantastic, and came, fortunately, in just the right time for the team to win a Super Bowl. 

So, Manning had two great playoff runs in eight years. Those runs were fantastic, but it really just indicates just how streaky Manning’s career has been. When he gets hot, he can be one of the 5 best quarterbacks in the league. When he’s not, he’s inaccurate and makes bad decisions, and is a detriment to his team. The difference in Manning’s 2011 season is that he was able to be much more consistent. In the playoffs (as well as in 2007), Manning was able to continues doing what he had done all season, while being careful with the football and limiting his turnovers. 

When you combine that with an opportunistic defense getting hot at the same time (Manning has never won a playoff game where the opposing team has scored more than 20… and has never lost when they’ve scored 20 or less) and you get some pretty incredible playoff runs.

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.

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