It's those 25 interceptions, which seem to be the number everybody wants to talk about. Not the career-high 31 touchdown passes. Not the second straight season of 4,000 passing yards. Not the 62.9 completion percentage or the fact that it was the third year in a row that number's gone up. No, it's those 25 interceptions that have come to define Manning's 2010 season, whether he likes it or not. For the record, he doesn't love it.
"I don't consider myself or think of myself as a 25-interception quarterback," Manning told me last week at Giants training camp. "So I've looked at them. I think it's important to look at them and see if there's a common theme or what not. We also hit a lot of plays, hit a lot of touchdowns, did a lot of good things."
They did indeed, especially when you consider what injuries did to Manning's offensive line and wide receiver corps in 2010. If it hadn't been for that career-high interception total, the rest of Manning's numbers would show the continuation of a steady, year-by-year progression into one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
There are several theories about why Manning's interceptions went through the roof, and the most obvious is the one that references how many balls bounced off of receivers' hands and into those of defenders. Looking back on the interceptions, I counted eight that fit that description. Pro Football Focus came up with 10 of them and wrote, in this fantasy preview article, "When you remove those interceptions from Eli’s ledger, his interception rate is right in line with his 2009 numbers at 2.8%." (Yeah, it's a fantasy article, but the numbers are the numbers.)
To his credit, Manning doesn't mention the dropped or tipped balls when he talks about his interceptions. He's a veteran leader on a Giants team that needs them, and it wouldn't do any good for him or anyone else if he blamed his receivers for 40 percent of his interceptions. He grimaces when he addresses the topic, but he doesn't assign the blame -- or the task of fixing it -- to anyone but himself.
"Just still got to figure out how to be aggressive and take our shots that are there, but also find my checkdowns," Manning said. "Some things are forced, and some things depend on the game and the situation, like when we're down a bunch and trying to throw and trying to make too much happen. Some are bad throws that'll just happen, and some are bad decisions. You try and get rid of the bad-decision ones."
Manning is 30 years old and entering his eighth NFL season. I'm willing to bet he's sharp enough and capable of addressing this issue to the point where it doesn't muddy up another season's stat line. Next year, he'd much prefer to be talking about the yards and the touchdowns.