Here's great news for the Giants and an unsettling thought for their opponents: Eli Manning believes he's still getting better.
"There's definitely room for improvement – there's no question about it," Manning said today at the team's training camp at the University at Albany. "Most of the things I'm working on are decision making, eliminating turnovers, and being more accurate. Just continuing to try and work on my skills. Making sure you don't have any missed opportunities, that when guys are open, I'm hitting them."
Manning certainly accomplished that in 2011, when he led the Giants to their second Super Bowl victory in five seasons. He also had the finest statistical season of his career. He set Giants records for pass attempts (589), completions (359) and yards (4,933). The yardage total was the fourth-highest in the NFL in 2011 and the sixth-highest in league history, as well as 912 more yards than his previous career best. Manning's 16 interceptions were nine fewer than he threw the previous season. He set an NFL record with 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes in the regular season. In the Giants' four-game postseason, Manning threw nine touchdown passes and only one interception.
Every one of the Giants' football decision-makers is certain Manning can continue to raise the bar of excellence.
"Eli's been a really good player for a long time," general manager Jerry Reese said. "It's very comforting to have him. Last year we said he was an ascending player, and I still believe that this year. He hasn't leveled off at all. He can still improve, and he wants to improve. That's the thing about him that we love."
These should be the very best seasons of Manning's career. He is 31 and entering his ninth season, all with the Giants. Manning has started 119 consecutive regular season games, plus 11 postseason games, and has thrown almost 4,000 passes. He's completing almost 60 percent of them throwing for 27,579 yards and 185 touchdowns.
It's rare when something occurs in a game that Manning hasn't previously seen. That experience is one reason he continues to improve.
"It is just reps," he said. "How many games have you played, how many times have you run the same play over and over again, versus different defenses, different looks, and having a great confidence of where you're going to go with the ball. As the ball is being snapped, as you're getting back and you're dropping, just seeing what's my progression? Your feet move faster, your eyes are looking different places. You have a better understanding of what's going on, so you can hopefully be more successful."
Manning's skill and experience are invaluable to the Giants in many respects, but this year his knowledge assists in another dimension. As defending Super Bowl champions, the Giants will face unique challenges in 2012, most notably that every opponent will bring a little extra energy to the field. Manning has been through this before, leading the Giants to an 11-1 start in 2008, the season after they won Super Bowl XLII.
Manning is characteristically approaching this season and challenge as he does any other.
"I think every training camp you treat the same," he said. "It doesn't matter what kind of success or troubles you had the year before. It's about getting better and improving on the previous year. Obviously for the rookies, they're just trying to learn the offense. They're trying to learn the plays, learn the system, learn what their roles are going to be, so you just want to get those guys caught up to speed on everything and making sure they know as much as possible. You don't know who is going to have to step up and get reps and make plays in a game."
Actually, we do. Manning will. And that's just how the Giants want it to be.