Amani Toomer and the archaic narrative on Eli Manning

After Eli Manning carried the Giants on his back bearing a weight few players have in NFL history, while fighting through perhaps the worst season-long offensive line performance that still claimed a Lombardi Trophy, it seemed this would be the one offseason in which Manning could escape without any howitzers fired in his direction.

But then again, he’s a starting quarterback in the New York City market.

Former New York Giant Amani Toomer continued the tradition enjoyed every summer — in the past by teammate and fellow athlete-turner-media personality Tiki Barber, and also everyone who ripped Manning for admitting to thinking he was elite and in the company of Tom Brady last year.

(The popular, snarky response came off as “25 interceptions in 2010? What a joke. No way he’ll be elite this year. Not that I’ve closely monitored the circumstances of his 25 picks the previous year and how that figure is incredibly misleading.”)

Toomer’s hypothetical choice of Tony Romo over Eli Manning seemed good-natured and not exactly inflammatory, yet painfully devoid of valuable insight — making a sophisticated statistical argument after doing “homework” that ostensibly covered 10 all of seconds, or at least that’s how long the evidence he presented takes to find. Excerpt from SiriusXM NFL’s “Movin’ the Chains” via Pro Football Talk:

“Tony Romo is probably, if you look at it statistically, he’s probably the best quarterback in the NFC East,” Toomer said.  “You look at Eli Manning and what he does in the fourth quarter, but you talk about consistency, talking about 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions, that guy can play.”

Co-host Tim Ryan tried to walk Toomer back to the consensus view on that issue, and it sort of worked.

“I’m talking about, for me, if I wanted a guy that is going to throw less interceptions and be more productive, higher completion percentage, I’m going to go with Tony Romo,” Toomer said.

I wanted to ignore this, but then I realized this is indicative of the fact that many just haven’t come around on how truly special a leap Eli’s made as a quarterback since 2010 and far more dramatically in late 2011. And that perhaps many are still misguidedly thinking the 2007 and 2011 iterations of the New York Giants are alike, given the similarities in playoff road and player personnel.

Key differences being:

• The 2011 team had no running game to lean on and struggled mightily on defense until Week 15, but remained in contention to that point because of Eli’s arm and an incredible knack for beating quick pressure.

• Instead of being arguably the league’s best as in 2007, the Giants’ O-Line performed miserably in 2011.

•  Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress provided an excellent veteran presence at receiver in 2007, whereas 2011 Eli slung the ball for over 4,900 yards with the U26 crew of Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz heading up the receiving options.

I wrote about it in Pro Football Focus in November: Even before he won his second Super Bowl, we all should’ve started giving Eli his dap for becoming a quarterback that can carry a team.

Then fast-forward to a slow week in July and a story I didn’t care that much about, until I thought about the bigger storyline that hasn’t quite died.

Toomer talks about all the stats he’s crunched and homework he did, but only referenced touchdowns and interceptions in 2011 for constituting “productive.” There are other facets, and other stats: Like the age of Eli’s receivers and how he’s helped them come into their own. Metrics conveying the way defensive lines dominated of Big Blue in the trenches the last couple years.

He also says Manning’s had a better supporting cast, when Romo’s offensive help has been superior for years, despite the 2011 struggles in pass protection.

If you want to make the Romo over Eli argument — or the “Romo gets way too much blame for his team not winning more” argument — that’s not how you do it. It’s time to admit Manning’s elite, and not in Tier II with Romo, Philip Rivers and IMO Jay Cutler (the latter I detailed in USA Today’s NFL Preview mag).

Now, I would say Romo is in position to potentially make a leap of his own in 2012, but the point of this post isn’t Eli vs. Romo.

It’s about no longer trotting out a narrative that was justified for qualifying Manning’s rise during his first Super Bowl run, but just doesn’t work anymore. Time to wake up and smell the 2012 roses, particularly the ones Jaws is selling — that Eli’s a Top 5 quarterback.

Toomer probably noticed the backlash to his comments but his latest rationale, via the NY Daily News, is also invalid:

“Of course he’s proved he can do it but he’s proved that he could do it within the function of a great team, a great organization, the same head coach and he’s been in the same system the entire time,” he said of his ex-teammate.

Umm, Jason Garrett joined the Cowboys as offensive coordinator in 2007. So, what’s that, going on six straight years as coach with the organization now?

“I talked with Zach Thomas who played with Tony Romo under Wade Phillips and he said it was a joke. They were listening to rap music before the practices. They weren’t focusing in at all. And what’s Tony Romo going to do in that type of situation?

Wade Phillips’ fault? Rap music?

“There are a lot of advantages that Eli has had and I realize that he’s taken advantage of them but you’ve got to look at the numbers and how productive Tony Romo has been over his entire career and you’ve got to match up the numbers.”

So, is that just referencing regular season touchdowns and interceptions again?

“I think you belittle the rest of the Giants by saying Eli’s won eight playoff games, Eli’s won this,” he said. “He has but he’s been on some really good teams that jelled well together on these playoff runs.”

That IS what everyone says about players when talking about their playoff record, in pretty much every team sport. We’re really getting into trivial semantics now.

Oh, and the offense jelled largely because of Manning’s rhythm with the receivers and ability to make up for awful, awful, awful line protection — Pro Football Focus gave them the worst pass block rating by a landslide. Cowboys finished middle of the pack in that category. Then there’s the running game, which produced the league’s worst yards-per-carry average.

That being said, Toomer’s barbs should not be compared to Tiki Barber’s from 2007.

Toomer’s always been well-spoken and is an all-time great Giant. A friend of mine who has worked with Toomer says he seems like a great person. I don’t find his comments to be malicious or attention-seeking like Barber’s were generally construed. Toomer’s just made a claim backed up by shoddy analysis on his relatively new radio show.

Perhaps Toomer will get better with reps. Eli certainly has, whether you come to grips with him getting on Brady’s level or not.

More Emerick: Check out USA Today’s 2012 NFL Preview, which hit news stands a couple weeks ago including Barnes and Noble. Analysis from Thomas Emerick, Greg Cosell, David Elfin and others will certainly put some pep in your step. Or grab it here:

Oh and hey: Follow me @ThomasEmerick if you want. I won’t tweet about what I had for lunch.


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