John Crist: It's easy to look at the fantasy numbers and be impressed by Eli Manning's three touchdown passes against the Panthers in Week 1 and his 386 passing yards against the Titans in Week 3, but the fact remains that he has turned the ball over eight times in three games. Is this simply a case of Manning not being able to carry an offense by himself like his brother oftentimes can?
Ernie Palladino: Geez, John. Critical of Eli much? But all kidding aside, I don't think that's the case. We all know Eli is different from Peyton Manning in that he needs all the parts of his offense working for him to be successful: the running game, the play-action, the deep game. He's simply not the kind of quarterback who's going to will his team into the end zone. Far from it.
That said, let's look at the turnovers, particularly the interceptions. He's got six of those in three games. Pretty lousy, right? But four of those came off eminently catchable balls that ticked off receivers' hands. Perhaps they weren't great passes, but they were catchable. And none other than playmaker Hakeem Nicks was responsible for two of those. Not Eli's fault at all.
As far as the fumbles, it's not like he's lousing up the center exchange. Those came as a result of sacks – big, painful sacks, in fact – because the offensive line is not providing him with much protection. Both tackles, David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie, have gotten eaten up by the Colts' and Titans' speed rushers. And heaven knows what Julius Peppers has in mind this week.
So, to summarize, the rest of the offense has more to do with Eli's turnovers than he does. But you'll never hear him say that.
JC: The Giants have run the ball as well as any team in the league the last few seasons, but all of a sudden Brandon Jacobs seems a step slower and his yards-per-carry average is trending downward. While Ahmad Bradshaw has been one of the top change-of-pace backs in the NFL since 2008, is he capable of being a featured ball carrier and getting 20 touches per game?
EP: Yes, he is. And he may well have to be because I believe all the injuries have gotten into Jacobs' head. He's no longer the feared north-south banger of three years ago. Instead, the knee and ankle injuries that have beset him the past two years have caused him to tend to run more toward the outside, which at this point is driving his coaches crazy.
The question with Bradshaw is not whether he deserves 20 touches per game, but whether his fragile feet will stand up to that. He runs on the outside of his feet, which triggered the problems with stress fractures and ankle issues last season. Orthotics have helped, but he'll never be cured of that without changing his running style physically, which isn't likely to happen. Aside from his fumble at the Tennessee 6 last week, he's done well with his cutback style. I'm just wondering whether the constant pounding of a featured back is going to take its toll sooner than later. But we're going to find out, as it doesn't appear the coaching staff is ready to switch Jacobs back to the lead back.
JC: As we've seen in Chicago, even old-school franchises that prefer to run the football can evolve, as the Bears are a pass-first team whether they admit it or not. The Giants appear to have some young weapons in the passing game, including three quality wide receivers and a solid tight end, so does New York need to get with the times and become more 21st century?
EP: They're already there. Tom Coughlin loves to talk about how he wants to run the football and that the Giants are a run-first team. It's a bunch of malarkey. They haven't been run-first since 2007. At best, they're hoping for a good balance between run and pass, but the numbers have skewed well toward the pass this year. Granted, that's because the Giants have been playing from behind. But even against Carolina, when the Giants had a 36-30 run-pass ratio, Manning often looked to throw early.
With the weapons they have in the passing game – Nicks, Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, Kevin Boss – the Giants aren't going to become a run-heavy team anytime soon. As I said, at best, you'll find run balance, not run dominance.
JC: The Bears have paid the G-Men's front four a lot of respect leading up this game, especially the pass-rushing quartet of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka and rookie Jason Pierre-Paul. With Chicago's offensive line proving to be a work in progress, are the Giants more likely to blitz a lot or simply let their defensive ends exploit what is a mismatch in their favor?
EP: New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has been trying to develop more aggression on the defensive front, not just by letting his pass rushers go, but by fiddling with the frontal alignments to create confusion. Expect to see more of that. So far, we've seen Kiwanuka play both defensive end and linebacker in the same game – his sack last week came from the linebacker spot.
We've also seen three defensive ends and three defensive tackles up front. So Fewell seems always to be looking for physical mismatches. He's also used three safeties at the same times, often effectively, and has blitzed safety Kenny Phillips and cornerback Terrell Thomas. He'll continue that, too. So the Bears should be ready for just about anything from anywhere.
JC: Here we are just three weeks into the 2010 campaign, and outside-looking-in teams like the Bears and Chiefs are 3-0 and playing great, while supposed Super Bowl contenders like the Giants, Cowboys, Vikings and Chargers are all 1-2 and playing poorly. What's your take on why the margin between really good and really bad is so razor thin in today's NFL?
EP: I've said this over and over. The NFL's biggest dream – and our biggest nightmare – is to have the entire league finish 8-8. They've bent over backward to create parity, particularly with the salary cap and free-agent rules. This has been coming since 1994.
But I don't really agree with you on the "really good" and "really bad" gap. There is always the top bunch that will pretty much dominate – and notice they also tend to be the healthiest teams, physically, throughout the season – and the few teams who are real disasters. The rest of the bunch is in what I like to call "The Blob." Those are the really close guys, the ones where you flip a coin to rate them between 7 and 20. And they all wind up finishing between 9-7 and 7-9. Ugh. So the razor really lies between them. Good teams are good teams because they can keep their productive cores together. Bad teams really stink, lots of times because injuries cause them to use backups and guys off the street in key spots. The rest just sort of meander along.
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