Eli Manning’s Stance: Putting His Best Foot Forward


Ben McAdoo’s coaching career with the New York Giants came to a well-publicized, nasty ending in the 2017 season. Much has been made of his mishandling of many aspects of the team, including defensive personnel, quarterbacks, media, you name it. The narrative exists that McAdoo was pretty terrible, and anything new head coach Pat Shurmur does is, of course, the awesome alternative. I have contributed to this narrative, penning multiple pieces at this venue and Inside the Pylon touting the characteristics of Shurmur’s offensive schemes. However, not all from McAdoo’s era was bad. At the time, many questioned McAdoo’s insistence on fundamental quarterback details that longtime starter and Super Bowl winner Eli Manning was coached to use. Among those were the quarterback’s stance, both from under center and from the frequently used shot gun. This piece will examine the myths that persist relating to quarterback footwork and how McAdoo’s influence on Manning will absolutely help him prolong his career.

To understand Ben McAdoo, like many coaches in the NFL, college, and high school ranks, is to understand where they came from. Ben McAdoo was brought into the NFL in 2004 by Mike McCarthy with first the New Orleans Saints, and then in 2006 moved with McCarthy becoming head coach of the Green Bay Packers. McCarthy hired McAdoo to coach his tight ends, as he knew trusted assistant coaches can make or break a regime. McAdoo was promoted to QB coach in 2012, McCarthy’s area of expertise (Rich Gannon, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers are his most notable QBs). Suffice it to say, the bulk of McAdoo’s career has been as understudy to McCarthy-isms and, like any loyal subject, he reflects that of his former boss. How does this relate to QB footwork? See below:


Manning Under Center

The above is a mid-2000s coaching clinic where McCarthy spoke for over an hour on the finer points of the QB position. Videos like this are YouTube gold, and it is highly recommended for further viewing. McCarthy is a branch in the Bill Walsh coaching tree (he was a Pitt graduate assistant like McAdoo, but under Walsh disciple Paul Hackett in the 80’s), and runs an offensive system built on rhythm and timing. See the below excerpt from what is known in some circles as the Bible, or otherwise known as Finding the Winning Edge by Bill Walsh, which focuses on a QB’s stance from under center, where the timing originates. (https://amzn.to/2PwAcdN:

Walsh comes to the conclusion that a QB can either stagger or be on the inside balls of his feet in a square stance, with the goal of eliminating false steps to maximize efficiency. Although it may seem that “West Coast” offensive coordinators in the Walsh tree and elsewhere would be the only ones who would care about the efficiency of a QB’s steps, that simply is not the case. Getting the quarterback and receivers in sync in rhythm routes is the hallmark of many offenses across a wide net of east coast, west coast, and high school offenses. See the below chart from Dub Maddox’s Adapt or Die (https://amzn.to/2ORIThM):

This chart simply scratches the surface, but it gives a sense of steps vs. timing down the field to receivers that allows an offense to function and flourish. It starts with the first read at the top of the drop (or last step on the chart), and the quarterback’s feet help him stay within the structure of the play as he goes through (hopefully) multiple reads in the progression.

Getting back to Walsh’s excerpt, the stagger was what Manning was using in the pre-McAdoo era, as this photo shows, taken from the Cowboys game in 2011:

The stagger stance seemed to be natural to Eli and, as Walsh alluded to above, the stance should not distract from other more important mental hurdles before the snap. But as the tape below shows, Manning, when staggered, often added another step backward with his left foot:


The play called was a pass protection look where the left guard pulled to the right, and Manning had to get his left foot out of the way. The play also called for a quick three-step drop, throwing a corner fade to the back pylon of the end zone. Yet Manning had to create more space than his stagger stance would allow and stay on time to release the ball in sync for the route. Notice his weight transfer, or lack thereof, as he throws:


The pass was off the mark, and to get a sense of Manning’s accuracy from 2011 to 2013, his completion percentage dipped below 60 (bottoming out at 57.5% in 2013). There are many factors that go into whether a pass is completed, and often it is not fair to judge a QB’s placement on that alone. From Football Outsiders, the Giants’ passing DVOA was -17.9%  in 2013, ranked 29th in the league. Suffice it to say that the Giants’ passing game was in some need of help at the end of Kevin Gillbride’s tenure as offensive coordinator in the 2013 season. Manning was regressing in his footwork and resorting to many ill-advised throws.


Why Cheat?

No, Ben McAdoo did not give Eli Manning steroids when he was hired as offensive coordinator in 2014. What he did do, however, was attempt to clean up Manning’s footwork which, to be frank, needed it. With McAdoo came a foot focus, as well as the quick passing game, and many such as yours truly believed this would lead to a rebirth of Manning’s career (we guessed that the quick game would do what McCoy did for Rivers’s career in San Diego/Los Angeles). One route that McAdoo certainly ran a lot was the smoke route or one-step hitch route, so much that by last year’s week three Eagles game, it was beyond painful to watch. Examples were pulled from throws to the right, which are incrementally easier for the QB to execute and take less time. See the below two plays, the first being in 2011 versus the Cincinnati Bengals, and the second more recent and run by a QB whom Cheeseheads are familiar with:



So, besides the just over .3 second differential of snap to release time, Rodgers utilized a cheat step for his left foot, moving backwards six inches or so to clear the offensive line in front of him, while almost simultaneously moving his right foot back a short step all in one motion, with the final steps completing the throw. Coaches like McCarthy in Green Bay want their quarterbacks to use efficient steps to get into their drops and include a “cheat” or a “punch” step to help set them on the right path. See the below excerpt from Ron Jenkins’s Quarterback Play (https://amzn.to/2ORCTph :

These details are important to do “all of the work early in the drop,” as McCarthy says. Obviously, speed is the essence of the smoke route setting up a receiver in space to maximize the potential yardage after the catch. But repeating the same details to start most drops allows the QB to develop a habit of holding up under the pressures of NFL-level execution, as Rodgers has.


Getting back to Manning, he showed a wide range of footwork in the pre-McAdoo era, occasionally displaying a need to take a shorter step back before pulling his right side away. The point is the motion of a cheat step is natural, and it may be hard to believe until you actually try mirroring a quarterback’s movements yourself. Specifically with the punch/cheat step, what does it look like for him on a throw farther downfield than a smoke route? Look no further than the first regular season game in 2014, Manning’s first outing under McAdoo. See the below fade route run versus the Lions:




Here, the corner fade is the right throw type, timed well, and solid, fluid footwork leading to good placement (even though the receiver could not bring it in). Again, it is not to suggest that McAdoo introduced a punch step to Manning (he had undoubtedly had people question his footwork prior), but this was a clear change in what the coaches were emphasizing and the plays they were able to call.


Manning in Shotgun


The change in Manning in the shotgun under McAdoo was even more apparent, and probably even more scrutinized, over the years. McCarthy and McAdoo coach to put the QB’s left foot forward in their stance in the gun. Most quarterbacks do the opposite with their right foot forward, so why the left? Let’s go back to Jenkins’s book:

As Jenkins states, the ability to react to a bad snap and the smoothness going into the drop make a lot of sense for any level of QB. Did the early smoothness help Manning? The first and easiest place to look was the corner fade route, and of course, there are three readily found examples from before and recently:


The first two corner fades from 2011 were inaccurate, one stemming from poor footwork in response to a bad snap and the second actually coming from a good position with the right foot starting forward. It should be disclosed, at least from tape study, that Manning struggled throwing balls to this area of the field from short drops consistently. To be fair, I almost did not believe a good example existed until I re-examined the week three matchup last season against the Eagles. Here, with the left foot forward, Manning smoothly delivers the ball on time to an area where only Beckham could make the catch.


Lastly, let’s try to put it all together. McCarthy has already been quoted as saying “do all the hard work in the beginning of your drop,” so how can that benefit a quarterback later in the play? After film study, there are simply more examples of Manning in 2014 willing to stay within the pocket structure, step up, and deliver a strike on schedule, which often was more efficient than in previous years.  Let’s look at two deep corner routes from Manning, one from 2011 where he shows poor pocket presence but ends up delivering a good throw, and one from 2014 in the same Detroit Lions game as above, where his footwork drove the timing. Again, it should be emphasized that this was Manning’s first regular season game with McAdoo, and the improvements were truly immediate:


In the first example from 2011, Manning does not step up in the space available by the line sliding to the left, or the right tackle’s very good job blocking the pass rusher. Instead, he runs into the pass rushing lane and then around it, making a very acrobatic throw downfield. The second example, believe it or not, is from a very similar distance, yet Manning makes it on schedule from the pocket; his footwork drives his timing. He throws a very catchable ball to the outside with minimal effort, yet his receiver cannot hang on. The left foot forward being the reason for the successful placement of this ball is somewhat of a stretch, but the bottom line is Manning benefited from McAdoo and it did not take long.


Does it Matter?


The answer here is the stance/footwork absolutely does matter, but are the left foot forward in shotgun and the cheat step from under center that important, especially this preseason as Manning has reverted back to right foot forward from the gun? This answer is subjective and clearly depends on the relationship any coach would have with Eli Manning. As Mike McCarthy mentioned in his clinic, how do you choose which issues of a QB to improve? The author has identified an example from this study, alluded to in the above videos: Manning’s left plant foot. The left plant foot for a right-handed quarterback should be aimed at the target, and it was not on the below miss:


Contrast that out route ball placement with the below, well-thrown route into an even tighter window in the same game:


When Manning’s plant foot is awry (pointed to the right on throws to that direction), he effectively has to come across his body, which simply leads to inaccuracies. The art is how a coach chooses to aid this while freeing him up to do what he does best. I am sure this observation of his plant leg is not new to him, or any experienced quarterback, for that matter. Was McAdoo trying to help this plant foot get in a more stable position? Like so much in life, it is not necessarily the message that causes issues. It’s how the message is delivered and then applied over time. What is clear from this current coaching staff is an openness to letting their quarterback group get on schedule in their drops as they see fit. See the below excerpt from the best beat writer article I have read on the subject (from Joseph Santoliquito, https://www.phillyvoice.com/kyle-lauletta-new-york-giants-eli-manning-eagles/):

There was a disconnect, to say the least, between the previous coaching staff and the Giants’ players. McAdoo taking on Manning’s footwork ultimately helped him in the short run, as shown above, and ultimately the long run, too. Manning is in the twilight of his long, successful career, but now he has experience staying on schedule via his feet, in an offense that forced him to locate balls in tight windows. Pat Shurmur runs an offense that is based on timing and rhythm, yet does not use so many isolation routes, rather, choosing to use combination routes to give his QB less demanding throws. To be clear, there is still a schedule to follow with the footwork, but now Manning has tools and experience and is ready to put his best foot forward.