CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

After Further Review: Elite drive shows Eli's getting there

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It's the drive that once again set off the great debate: Is New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning elite?

Manning drove the Giants 80 yards in eight plays to the game-winning touchdown against the Patriots on Sunday, the winning score coming with 15 seconds left in the game.

Manning and the Giants covered the 80 yards in 1:21. It was a calm, cool drive for Manning, something we've come to expect from his brother.

There was no panic. No being unsettled in the pocket, just a quarterback doing his thing. Studying that drive on tape made it even more impressive.

Here's the breakdown of the drive that started the Is-Eli-Elite debate again.

First-and-10, Giants 20: Manning takes the snap in the shotgun, looks left against man-under coverage with two-deep safeties. All his receivers are covered, so Manning moved to his right outside the pocket and saw Victor Cruz work open and hit him for 19 yards.

First-and-10, Giants 39: Manning takes a shotgun snap against four-man pressure. Against man-under and two-deep again, he tries to hit Cruz deep on the left sideline against double-coverage but the ball falls incomplete.

Second-and-10, Giants 39: Manning takes a shotgun snap against four-man pressure and man-under and two-deep again for the Pats. He sees Cruz working on Kyle Arrington in man coverage and tries to squeeze the ball in to a tight window, but the coverage is good. Pass is incomplete.

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Third-and-10, Giants 39: Manning takes a shotgun snap against five-man pressure and stands in the face of it with some good protection. The Patriots are again in man-under, two-deep. Manning decides to take a shot at tight end Jake Ballard, who is in man coverage against veteran linebacker Tracy White in the seam. Manning throws a little behind Ballard, who makes a great catch for a 28-yard gain in front of the safeties.

First-and-10, Patriots 33: Manning takes a shotgun snap against four-man pressure. The Patriots are in man-under, two-deep again. With none of his receivers winning against the man, Manning gets out of the pocket and scrambles for 12 yards and a first down.

First-and-10, Patriots 21: Manning takes a shotgun snap against four-man pressure. The Patriots again are in man-under, two-deep. Manning tries to hit Cruz deep down the left side against Arrington, but he appears to be covered. But the Patriots make a mistake as safety Sergio Brown runs into Cruz as the ball is in the air for a pass-interference penalty that puts the ball at the 1.

First-and-goal, Patriots 1: Manning takes the snap under center and pulls back to throw, but Gary Guyton comes free up the middle in his face forcing him to move to his left. Throwing off-balance, he sees Ballard open but the pass doesn't get to him in the end zone and falls incomplete.

Second-and-goal, Patriots 1: The Giants try to hand off to Brandon Jacobs over the left side, but he is stopped just short and the Giants take their final timeout with 19 seconds left.

Third-and-goal, Patriots 1: Manning takes the snap under center against a goal-line defense. He play-fakes to Jacobs and moves slightly to his left and fires a bullet to Ballard, who beats White again in man coverage for the touchdown.

Is Eli Manning elite? After watching this drive and seeing what he did for much of this game and this season, you would have to stay he's getting there.

Film study (10 things I saw on the tape)

1. After watching Carson Palmer's first start for the Raiders, I came away thinking it wasn't nearly as bad as some had suggested. He made several nice throws and reads, and his touchdown pass to fullback Marcel Reese against two-deep zone coverage was pretty. He had two other touchdown passes. As for his three picks, the first one came on a great play in man coverage by Champ Bailey on a long ball. The second was a bad overthrow that hit Denarius Moore's hand and sailed into the arms of Chris Harris. The third was in the final minute with Oakland in scramble mode. He was hit as he threw and the ball floated into Bailey's arms. Palmer wasn't nearly as bad as advertised.

2. The Atlanta Falcons made a smart move last week against Indianapolis to sit down right guard Garrett Reynolds. He took over as the starter when the team let Harvey Dahl go to St. Louis in free agency this summer. Reynolds was bad in his time as the starter and the team changed up and made Joe Hawley the right guard against the Colts. Hawley, who started earlier this year at center when Todd McClure was out, stepped in and did a nice job. He is a smaller guard than Reynolds, but he is tougher. He had some nice blocks in the run game, and the team's first score came off of his right hip. Look for the Falcons running game to improve with Hawley in the lineup.

3. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers tied his biggest rushing day of his career against the Chargers last Sunday with 52 yards. Why? The Chargers actually did a decent job in man coverage against his receivers. Even though Rodgers finished with a big day numbers-wise, the Chargers played a lot of man-press coverage on his receivers and they had trouble getting open. That led to his running out of the pocket more than usual. He was also sacked four times, most of it because of the coverage. If I were the Vikings this week, I would study this tape hard. Beating up the Packers receivers at the line might be the way to slow this offense down some.

Torrey Smith (82) beats William Gay (22) and Ryan Clark (25) for the game-winning touchdown. (US Presswire)  
Torrey Smith (82) beats William Gay (22) and Ryan Clark (25) for the game-winning touchdown. (US Presswire)  
3. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau took a lot of heat for playing man coverage on his team's final drive against the Ravens on Sunday night. Trailing by four, Joe Flacco drove the Ravens 92 yards to the winning score. If you're looking for a goat, pick on corner William Gay. The Ravens did on that drive. He gave up the fourth-and-1 completion to Anquan Boldin, who later dropped a pass on the drive after beating Gay. And then Gay gave up the game-winning touchdown to Torrey Smith. It certainly was not a good series for Gay, but he also didn't get any help from safety Ryan Clark on the game-winner. If the Steelers are going to man up like they did, Gay has to be better.

4. One of the lost angles from that drive was the Ravens' offensive line. It was sensational. After struggling to block James Harrison most of the night -- he had three sacks -- the line did a great job keeping Flacco clean on the game-winning drive. He was pressured on the first play -- an incomplete pass --- but hardly at all after that. The Steelers moved Harrison around, from the right to the left and even sent him up the middle. He got close, but couldn't get home. One has to wonder how things would have been different if LaMarr Woodley was on the other side instead of missing the game with an injury. But credit the Ravens' front. The linemen pulled it together when it mattered, passing off stunts like they knew they were coming.

6. A formation we're starting to see more and more is the full-house backfield. The Packers use it a lot, usually with a fullback, a tight end and the runner behind the quarterback. The Chiefs used it against Miami last Sunday. They lined up Thomas Jones deep behind Matt Cassel with tight end Leonard Pope and fullback Le'Ron McClain lined up split in front of Jones. Those two went into the line to get the linebackers to free up Jones to run. The play got 5 yards on a second-and-4.

7. One of the more improved groups this week from the previous Sunday was the Saints' offensive tackles. Jermon Bushrod started again at left tackle and played much better than he did against the Rams. With Charles Brown out with an injury, Zach Strief started in his place. Strief, who opened the season as the starter before missing five games with a knee injury, also had a solid game against the Bucs. Moving forward, these two have to be good if Drew Brees is to get back to putting up big numbers.

8. There are a lot of people wondering how Green Bay's pass defense had so much trouble against San Diego. Here's how: The linebackers struggled big time in coverage and Philip Rivers made them pay. He gobbled up a lot of yards underneath against those linebackers. The Packers also doubled Antonio Gates a lot, leaving Tramon Williams and Sam Shields in man coverage. Shields got beat for one touchdown, while Williams got beat for another. Williams also returned a pick for a score when he jumped an underneath route. But later in the game, he tried to do the same thing and Rivers threw over the top of him for a score to Vincent Jackson. Those secondary players are gambling too much.

9. Early in the season, Bears left tackle J'Marcus Webb took a lot of criticism. After starting as a rookie at right tackle n 2010, Webb was moved to the left side, even though he had issues on the right. He didn't get off to a good start, but even when he was struggling some you could see his athletic ability. Some thought I was nuts to think Webb had a chance to be a decent left tackle. Fast forward to this past Monday. He did an outstanding job on Eagles pass rusher Trent Cole, who did not get a sack. Webb showed off his athletic ability by getting his big body in position to block the speedy Cole. There were times he had help, but there were other times he was 1-on-1. Webb has a chance to be a good player.

10. I still think Tim Tebow runs too much and the Broncos run way too much option to get a real gauge on what kind of quarterback he can truly be for the long haul. But I have to say this about his play last week against Oakland: He made two really nice NFL-type plays on his two touchdown passes. On the first one, a 27-yard throw to Eric Decker, Tebow took the snap in the shotgun, took three steps, put his foot in the ground and hit a wide-open Decker. It was an easy throw, but it was the right read and it was on time and on target. On the second one, he took the snap, play-faked to Knowshon Moreno, took a half roll to his left, set his feet, looked right and then fired a bullet to the middle of the field to a wide-open Eddie Royal. The one thing that would concern me if I were a Broncos coach or fan would be the number of times Tebow took shots. He was tackled 11 times and hit seven other times. That's a lot of contact for a quarterback, even one as tough as Tebow.

Hot Tub

1. Titans corner Cortland Finnegan: I saw his game live against the Bengals and he was everywhere. This is the Finnegan who went to the Pro Bowl a few years ago. He covered and tackled well.

2. Broncos running back Willis McGahee: Where did that speed come from? The guy looks fast and young. He didn't look that way in Baltimore the past couple of seasons. No Raiders player could catch him on the 60-yard touchdown run.

3. Chargers nose tackle Antonio Garay: He had one of his best games against three good inside players for the Packers. He had a sack and six tackles and held up against the run.

4. Steelers tackle Max Starks: His signing has really solidified this offensive line. He's coming off an impressive game against the Ravens.

5. Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork: On a line that has struggled at times, Wilfork continues to play at a high level.

Cold Tub

1. Raiders middle linebacker Daryl Blackstock: Playing for the injured Rolando McClain, he had a rough go of it as Denver ran through the Oakland defense.

2. Colts quarterback Curtis Painter: He was high with his throws all day. As bad as his numbers were, it was even worse watching him.

3. Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson: He isn't making an impact like he did last season. He is getting a lot of doubles and isn't handling it. It's time he gets it going. He does want a new contract, right?

4. Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji: There were some plays late in the Chargers game where he barely looked like he could get off the ball and virtually leaned on the offensive linemen across from him. What happened to this guy?

5. Chargers safety Steve Gregory: He got beat for a jump-ball touchdown, missed several tackles and wasn't a factor in coverage against the Packers.

Three and outs

Three guys left off my midseason All-Pro team who were close:

1. Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny: He has been a great pickup for Jacksonville in the middle of the defense.

2. Texans corner Johnathan Joseph: He has also been a nice pickup in free agency. He's a big reason the Texans are ranked first in total defense.

3. Browns corner Joe Haden: On a young defense, he has stood out a lot in man coverage.

The three top college quarterbacks for next year's draft not named Luck

1. Matt Barkley, Southern California: He plays like an NFL passer. The only knock would be his height at 6-feet-2.

2. Landry Jones, Oklahoma: At 6-4, he has good size. And his arm is good. But he also had a lot of talent outside around him.

3. Case Keenum, Houston: Talk all you want about him being a system quarterback and how his arm isn't great. Didn't they say that about Andy Dalton as well?

Tweets at me

1. From @Sethlvgolf: @PriscoCBS you're very creative

2. From @SamirJR24: @PriscoCBS So true Gruden Loves everybody he put down the Chuckie Face and now its all Cumbyyaa!!!

3. From @kravon1: @PriscoCBS Only 1 man can rescue PSU and be their new head coach and that man is Timmy Tebow


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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