From 2009-2010, the receiver affectionately known as “Super Mario” (along with every other professional athlete named Mario) averaged a strong 58.5 receptions, 883 yards and seven touchdowns. He made a number of explosive plays during his Giants career, and caught a touchdown pass in all three games of the NFC playoffs. But the former third round pick from Michigan has also dealt with drops, poor route running, miscommunication with the quarterback and nagging injuries. Despite making plenty of positive contributions, Manningham never developed into a consistent starting receiver.
Manningham missed four games of the 2011 season with a concussion and knee issues, and at one point it looked like he might need season-ending surgery. But the Giants weathered what could have been a disastrous injury, and actually looked like a better offensive team without their #3 receiver on the field. Here are Eli Manning’s statics in those four games, compared to 12 games with Manningham on the field:
Eli Without Manninhgam (4 games): 81/137 (59%), 1232 yards (9 yards per attempt), 10 TD (7.3%), 3 INT (2.2%), 104 QB rating
Eli With Manningham (12 games): 278/ 452 (62%), 3701 yards (8.2 yards per attempt), 19 TD (4.2%), 13 INT (2.9%), 89.5 QB rating
His completion percentage and yards per game are comparable, but Manning's touchdown-to-interception ratio was far better in the four games without Manningham, resulting in a far superior QB rating. The level of competition between these two groups was also comparable: the opponent’s average passing defense ranked 17th in the games with Manningham, and 19th without him.
If not for Manningham’s injuries, Victor Cruz may never have gotten his chance to break out. Here are Cruz’ statistics in those four games without Manningham in lineup, compared with his other 11 games:
Cruz without Manningham (4 games): 22 receptions (5.5 per game), 450 yards (112.5 per game), 5 TD (1.25 per game)
Cruz with Manningham (11 games): 60 receptions (5.5 per game), 1086 yards (99 per game), 4 TD (.4 per game)
Of course, a four game sample-size not enough to draw any kind of definitive conclusion. The point is that that Eli and company did not miss a beat during Manningham's absence. Simply put, Manningham not an indispensable member of the Giants' offense.
Even with the third receiver job a question mark, the Giants’ passing game will still be one of the league’s best as long as the trio of Manning, Cruz and Hakeem Nicks remain healthy. With improvement from the offensive line and the running game (and really, they can’t be any worse), the Giants’ offense should once again be one of the league’s best in 2012.