Remember when Eli Manning panicked?

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Eli Manning at the Super Bowl. (nfl.com)
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A regular column about what the Giants are up to when they're not playing football.

Two recent scouting breakdowns on Eli Manning focused on two aspects of his game: His ability to read through his progressions, and his knack for buying himself time by maneuvering in the pocket.

In one, Ron Jaworski named Manning the fifth best quarterback in the N.F.L.

Jaworski pointed to his touchdown pass to Mario Manningham that put the playoff game against Atlanta out of reach, and said, “Pre-snap recognition. Progression reading. Subtle pocket movement. Willingness to pull the trigger. Precise ball location. You saw many of the attributes demanded to play at an elite level.”

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In the other, Greg Cosell of NFL Films broke down the famous 38-yard sideline completion to Manningham on the final drive of Super Bowl XLVI. As Manning himself told David Letterman, Manningham was not his first read on the play. But he went through his progressions quickly enough to hit Manningham before the double-team arrived.

Cosell also touched on Manning’s pocket presence, writing:

“Manning, once a little frenzied and out of control when he was forced to react in response to the pass rush, is now more poised and composed. His movement is more deliberate and calculated. His downfield focus is sharper, with better clarity.”

The numbers back up this anecdotal impression. According to Pro Football Focus stats, Manning had the fourth-best completion percentage under pressure last year, but the best “accuracy percentage,” a PFF stat that accounts for drops by receivers. Despite his lack of visible athleticism, he was also sacked the lowest percentage of the time last year when under pressure. Michael Vick finished second in this stat, showing that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Making this more impressive is that Manning bucked the conventional wisdom stating that that quarterbacks who feel pressure get rattled and perform worse. Significantly, he faced pressure the second-highest percentage of the time last year (38.9 percent of the time, thanks to a largely poor Giants offensive line). He evidently didn’t get rattled.

Putting all these numbers together, the conclusion is obvious: Eli Manning was the best quarterback under pressure in the N.F.L. last year. The old image of him panicking and flinging passes off his back foot while under pressure is officially outdated.

BUT THE BIGGER RECENT STORY INVOLVING MANNING was the reaction to Amani Toomer’s comments in which he obliquely compared Eli to Tony Romo in the course of a perfectly reasonable defense of Romo.

This was then completely blown out of proportion and willfully misconstrued. What Toomer actually said--that Romo consistently has the best statistics of any N.F.C. East quarterback, and maybe isn’t the sole reason the Cowboys aren’t that great--was benign and indisputable.

Here’s are the comments:

Tony Romo is probably, if you look at it statistically, he’s probably the best quarterback in the N.F.C. East. I mean, look at Eli Manning and what he does in the fourth quarter, but you talk about 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions, that guy can play. And all the Cowboys fans out there that are saying he can’t play, saying they don’t like him, you’ve got to really look at what you’re getting, because you can’t replace a guy like that because he is a top, upper-echelon quarterback and I just don’t see why he is getting blamed for all these things that kind of aren’t his fault.

For me, if I wanted a guy that is going to throw less interceptions and be more productive, higher completion percentage, I’m going with Tony Romo.

(A semi-related point often made by Capital political reporter and resident Cowboy fan and Romo apologist Reid Pillifant: The Eli-Romo dichotomy is often portrayed as Glamor Boy vs. No Frills Guy, until you realize that Romo was an undrafted free agent from a non FBS school and Eli was the first pick in the draft from a patrician football background, who leaned on his ex-star player father to engineer his trade to the Giants.)

No Giants fan would trade their guy for Romo, but it’s worthwhile to note that the whipping boy for many frustrated Cowboys fans usually puts up much better stats than the guy Giants fans have ticketed for Canton. Toomer’s comments didn’t cross any lines here.

Obviously, the fact that this became “controversy” fodder owes to the fact that we’re in the six-week dead period between OTAs and training camp. But I also think Toomer’s blowhard media persona preceded him on this one. His style is a typically peremptory jock-talk one. He also does things like engaging Jeremy Shockey in a silly Twitter fight, unsolicitedly calling him a “bad teammate, worse person” when word got out that Shockey wanted to return to the Giants.

The irony is that Toomer’s boorish on-air persona contrasts with his understated elegance as a player. He was “the stateliest Giant,” wrote Tom Callahan, in The GM, his book about Ernie Accorsi. Toomer’s calling card was the balletic toe-tap on the sideline. Giants fans would be best served preserving this image of quiet grace in their minds rather than getting worked up over what he meant or didn’t mean to say about Eli Manning.

CHRIS CANTY MADE SOME OFFSEASON-LULL news when he compared Jason Pierre-Paul to Reggie White, in the process saying that JPP was better than DeMarcus Ware, Canty’s former teammate in Dallas.

“JPP”s ability to play any position along the defensive front is what makes him tremendously special. He can play the shade, the two-technique, the three-technique … he can do it all … Anything you want him to do along the defensive front, he can do.”

This to me is one of those compliments that also contains a subtle brag. After all, versatility along the line is Canty’s calling card as well. He’s played different versions of defensive tackle in his time with the Giants, taking on a classic double-team consuming nose tackle role last year. This is why the Giants had no qualms about giving a lucrative free-agent deal to Canty as a 4-3 defensive tackle after he had established himself as a 3-4 defensive end and slotting him in as a 4-3 defensive tackle.

Perry Fewell touched on this attribute when I interviewed him for a feature on the Parkchester born Canty last year: “The flexibility is unbelievable,” he told me.

Football games, let alone seasons, are messy affairs. It’s not so simple as just slotting players into ideal situations and having them do what they do best. Guys like Canty and JPP who can hold down multiple positions along the line buffer the Giants against injuries, which are less “unfortunate” than “inevitable.”

Canty had knee surgery after the season to address an injury he said limited him to “80 percent” last year. Even though he wasn’t running as of late June, he said he expected to be ready for training camp. He’ll expected to pick up where he left off after a second half that represented his best stretch of football with the Giants.

This is a bit of a crude way of illustrating this, but according to Pro Football Focus’s grading, Canty was well below average during the first part of last year but elite in the second half. His first-half cumulative grade placed him in the bottom 20 percent of defensive tackles. His second-half cumulative grade placed him in the top 5 for the position.

TOM COUGHLIN THREW OUT THE FIRST PITCH AT YANKEE Stadium late last month.

His throwing motion wasn’t as smooth as I had imagined: His front side opened up too soon, causing his arm to flail around in a was that lacked oomph.

This might owe from the difference between throwing a baseball and a football: Baseball requires a longer, cross-the-body motion, while football requires a short stroke from the ear downward. (Mark Sanchez looked similar to Coughlin while throwing out the first pitch at Citi Field in 2009.)

Then again, it might have to do with the fact that Coughlin turns 66 next month.

Of course, don’t tell this to Ray Perkins, the former Giants coach from the early 1980s who just accepted the head coach job at Jones Junior College in Mississippi--at age 70. Perkins’ contribution to Giants history has been largely forgotten. But longtime fans still credit him for helping turn the franchise around from a playoff-less stretch from 1964 through 1980, marked in the end by a dysfunctional front office and a drug-infested locker room.

Perkins cut a similar figure to Coughlin: He was a rail-thin tough guy whose disciplinarian streak could border on sadism. Perkins’ own intensity hasn’t dimmed with age, and he sees no reason why Coughlin’s should anytime soon.

From Paul Schwartz in the Post:

Tom Coughlin’s got another 15, 20 years in him,” Perkins told The Post.

When that remark was met with laughter, Perkins quickly added, “He does. He works out, he takes care of himself, he feels good. He’s a great coach, and I mean it. He’s got 15 or 20 more years in him. And he is totally wrong if he starts thinking of retirement, in my opinion.

DERRICK WARD HAS OFFICIALLY CALLED IT A CAREER.

Ward will always be remembered for the yeoman work he did as a rotation back for the Giants in 2007 and 2008 as a member of the “Earth, Wind, and Fire” trio. (Beyond Brandon Jacobs obviously being Earth, who between Ward and Bradshaw was “Wind” or “Fire,” or why, was never clear to me.)

Ward was spectacular in 2008, leading the Giants with 1409 yards from scrimmage and leading the N.F.L. with 5.6 yards per carry.

But never has a monster season been so roundly shrugged off: Ward benefitted from a perfectly cohesive Giants’ offensive line, and pretty much everybody knew it. He was given a modest free-agent payday by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that offseason but was cut a year later, thus becoming a lesson in two indisputable football facts:

1) Running backs are mostly fungible. There are a lot of pretty good ones out there. 2) Bad teams tend to overpay decent players who were made to look very good by being on very good teams.