Mobility matters at the quarterback position more than ever in the NFL.

Tom Brady is a glaring and all-time-great exception, but look at the majority of the league’s top quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Carson Wentz, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck (when healthy) all are often dominant with their legs.

Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford can move. Drew Brees can dance. Deshaun Watson is electric. The NFC is full of QBs who do damage with their feet: Wentz, the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, and both Washington’s outgoing (Kirk Cousins) and incoming (Alex Smith) starters.

Nick Foles, the Eagles’ Super Bowl MVP, isn’t a tuck-and-run player, but his elusiveness in the pocket is a major reason Philly won it all, including on what I felt was the play of the game: Foles danced away from pressure and threw on-target, off-balance, to tight end Zach Ertz for a two-yard gain on 4th-and-1 from the Eagles’ own 45-yard line with under five minutes left and New England up, 33-32.

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The Patriots had scored touchdowns on three straight drives to start the second half. But the Eagles converted that fourth down because of Foles’ feet, and Foles hit Ertz for the go-ahead touchdown later that drive. And then Brandon Graham forced a Brady fumble, and one Jake Elliott field goal and a failed Patriots Hail Mary later, the Eagles were world champs.

And then there’s Eli Manning and the Giants, and the interesting question of how new head coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Shula will build a thriving offense around Manning, 37, one of the least mobile quarterbacks in an increasingly athletic league at the most important position in the sport.

Eli Manning is, quite simply, one of the NFL's least-mobile quarterbacks.

Eli Manning is, quite simply, one of the NFL’s least-mobile quarterbacks.

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Manning, no doubt, managed a miraculous and legendary Super Bowl escape of a Patriots’ pass rush in Super Bowl XLII, hitting David Tyree for the famous helmet-catch on the Giants’ game-winning Super Bowl XLII drive.

But that was on Feb. 3, 2008.

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The last two seasons, as Ben McAdoo’s offense floundered, the head coach constantly harped on the need for Manning to better move his feet, buy time and make more accurate throws off-balance or from uncomfortable positions.

McAdoo’s comments sometimes went too far and made the coach seem unaccountable, throwing Manning under the bus. And it is of course a coach’s job to build a team around the personnel he has, so McAdoo’s and Jerry Reese’s judgment that the problem was Manning — and not the offensive line — ultimately led to their firings on Dec. 4.

But it’s important to note that McAdoo came to the Giants from working with Rodgers and the Packers in Green Bay, and while he and Manning had success together in 2014-15 with McAdoo as offensive coordinator, McAdoo as head coach — and as a modern-day NFL play-caller — never stopped stressing how having a quarterback with a better ability to dance and deliver would have compensated for some of the personnel problems around Manning.

Now in step Shurmur and Shula, coming from two offenses with quarterbacks who can move:

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Case Keenum ran play action extremely well and often for Shurmur last season in Minnesota. Keenum could roll out or wheel around deep to extend plays and make throws down the field on the move. The Vikings, with a stout defense, as well, went to the NFC Championship Game.

Shula has coached Newton, meanwhile, for all seven of the Panthers QB’s NFL seasons — two years as quarterback coach and five as offensive coordinator. And Newton is one of the most imposing dual-threat QBs in league history.

Pat Shurmur must learn to work around Eli Manning's limitations.

Pat Shurmur must learn to work around Eli Manning’s limitations.

(Julio Cortez/AP)

Though Shula’s offense mostly was middle of the road in Carolina, Shula could rely on Newton being able to create something out of nothing on broken plays. He had the flexibility to draw up a wide arrangement of calls based on Newton’s versatility, and in 2015, Shula and Newton captained the NFL’s No. 1-ranked offense to a Super Bowl berth.

Going back further in the coaches’ careers, in fact, Shurmur coached Donovan McNabb and a younger Foles in Philadelphia, and Shula developed a young David Garrard in Jacksonville.

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Crafting an offense for Manning will be nothing like any of those experiences.

Now Shurmur, 52, and Shula, 52, have risen to this level of the coaching ranks because they’ve coached all types of QBs. Shurmur had Marc Bulger in St. Louis (2009), and Shula had Trent Dilfer in Tampa (1996-99).

Manning, of course, has two Super Bowl wins and MVPs to his name, and there are still young QBs who work mostly from the pocket who appear to have bright futures, such as the Rams’ Jared Goff and the Raiders’ Derek Carr. The Giants’ offense also should have a ton of weapons, from a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. to Sterling Shepard to Evan Engram and more, at Manning’s disposal.

It just seems, though, that Shurmur will have to tinker significantly with his playbook, and Shula will have to adjust his mindset coaching Manning, too, to fit their new quarterback’s specific set of skills.

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This may only be a 2018 challenge, especially if the Giants draft Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold or Baker Mayfield and get on the bandwagon of QBs with fancy feet to match their golden arms. And we still don’t know how aptly Davis Webb can avoid an NFL pass rush.

But before Shurmur and Shula groom Manning’s successor, their task in 2018 will be to win with the veteran quarterback himself. And that will require a much better offensive line, a consistently punishing running game, and no doubt some adjustment for the coaches in calling plays around not only Manning’s strengths, but his limitations.

Tags:
nfl
new york giants
eli manning
pat shurmur
mike shula

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