Why Rodgers is rising, Manning is slipping

Trevor Ebaugh, ESPN Stats & Information

>Aaron Rodgers has outperformed >Eli Manning in a variety of categories over their last five games.

A few weeks ago, Eli Manning was on top of the football world and Aaron Rodgers was struggling. But when the two meet on Sunday night, they'll enter heading in directions opposite how their seasons started.

Manning has really struggled recently, failing to throw a touchdown pass in three straight games for the first time since he was a rookie.

Rodgers has been returning to his MVP form, nearly tripling his PAA (Points Above Average; the number of points above what an average quarterback with a 50.0 QBR would be expected to score against an average defense on a neutral field) from 7.7 in his first five games to 21.9 during his last five.

Let’s take a look at how each quarterback has gotten to where they are and give you one key stat to keep an eye on for each throughout the game

Eli Manning

The bye week may have been just what Manning needed. Manning recently said his arm felt much better and that his ball had a little more “pop”, which is a good sign for Giants fans as Manning’s throws have been uncharacteristically erratic lately.

Manning vs 4 or Fewer Rushers
This Season

Off-target percentage measures how many of a quarterback’s attempts, not including throw-aways, are either over- or underthrown, and Manning’s off-target percentage jumped from 14 percent in his first five games to 24 percent during his last five, the fifth-highest in the league.

What does that translate to for a game? It would be the difference between throwing four passes off-target and seven passes off-target in a game in which Manning threw 30 times.

Manning has been trending downward during his last five games, but his 27.1 QBR during his last three games is the performance expected from a replacement-level quarterback, not a two-time Super Bowl MVP.

A big reason for Eli’s struggles is the fact that he has not been able to adapt to defenses sending a standard pass rush against the Giants more often.

The standard pressure against Manning has also been much more effective in recent weeks. During his first seven games, Manning was sacked an NFL-low once by a pass rush of four or fewer.

Since then, his protection has collapsed, allowing him to be sacked five times in three games. Each of Manning’s last three opponents sent four or fewer pass rushers against him at a higher rate than their season averages.

Manning’s QBR ranks 21st in the league when he has two seconds in the pocket or less. He’s eighth-best when he has more than two seconds to settle in the pocket.

Aaron Rodgers

Unlike Manning, Aaron Rodgers has thrived over his last five games, leading the Packers to five straight wins and a tie with the Bears atop the NFC North. Rodgers’ 80.3 QBR is the fifth-best in the NFL since the start of Week 6 and his plus-15 touchdown-to-interception differential is the best in the NFL during that span.

In his MVP season last year, Rodgers was dominant when throwing along the sidelines, posting an NFL-best 94.7 QBR on such throws outside the painted numbers and he led the league with a 16 percent off-target rate

Stat To Watch: Aaron Rodgers
Throwing Outside the Numbers

During his first five games this year, Rodgers was terrible on those throws, posting a 54.8 QBR with a 27 percent off-target rate.

Rodgers found his stride in Week 6, completing five touchdown passes outside the numbers against the Texans, the most in a game in the last five seasons, and he has not looked back.

During his last five games, Rodgers has a 89.9 QBR on outside throws with a plus-10 touchdown-to-interception differential, the best in the league. His off-target rate has also dropped to 21 percent and has been under 12 percent in three of those contests.