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Giants’ Smith done for year

The Giants’ biggest obstacle heading into Sunday’s showdown with the Eagles isn’t the shortened schedule. It’s the loss of receiver Steve Smith.

The Giants’ biggest obstacle heading into Sunday’s showdown with the Eagles isn’t the shortened schedule. It’s the loss of receiver Steve Smith.

The team’s No. 2 target is out for the season after suffering an articular cartilage injury in his left knee during Monday’s win over Minnesota. Smith made 48 catches for 529 yards and three touchdowns. It's a big blow for struggling quarterback Eli Manning, who has pegged Smith as his security blanket.

“It’s unfortunate but you can’t dwell on it,” Manning said. “We have other players and other receivers and guys who can make big plays for us. These last few weeks we’ve been without them [Smith and Hakeem Nicks] and been able to win some games.”

If they win again on Sunday they’ll take control of first place in the NFC East. Manning has his work cut out for him, though, as Eagles Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel returned to practice and is expected to play.

“I don’t feel like it puts more pressure on me,” Nicks said about the loss of Smith. “I just have to rise up to the occasion. Mario Manningham will step up, Derek Hagan will step up. I’m just going to continue to hold it down on my part.”

Nicks added that coverages will probably change specifically geared to slow him down until someone else steps up.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of two-high with safety help over the top,” said Nicks. “It just makes me work harder and [offensive coordinator] Coach [Kevin] Gilbride does a good job of moving me around a little bit. It’ll be fun.”

Over the past month, neither Manningham nor Hagan have done enough to make opposing defenses not want to double-cover Nicks but everyone in the Giants’ locker room has put their faith in the streaky Manningham and the obscure Hagan.

“When called upon, no matter what the role is, he’s done a good job and we will continue to call on him,” Coughlin said of Hagan.

Coughlin also said he has confidence in the other lesser-known wideouts to pick up the slack. And he’ll have no problem calling their numbers if needed.

“They’re going to learn week by week. You’re not going to give them the encyclopedia [but] they’re going to learn the game plan and have done a good job of learning,” Coughlin said of late-season pickups Michael Clayton and Devin Thomas. “How the game plan applies and all the adjustments that go with that, that’s how they’ll continue to learn.”

Whoever replaces Smith in the lineup will have to learn on the fly, as the Eagles have arguably the most aggressive secondary in the league. Philadelphia leads the league with 22 interceptions, including a team-high seven by Asante Samuel. The opportunistic Samuel will most likely be shadowing Nicks, so it’ll be up to the rest of the wideouts to make an imprint on the game.

Manning said Smith’s absence is a blow but since he wasn’t here for most of the last month, the Giants have found a way to get around that void.

“The good thing is we have a lot of receivers who have been here for the last month or so who are up to date on what’s going on because of the injuries earlier in the year,” Manning said. “We have Hakeem back and Mario, those guys are playing well. Hagan has been here for a month and is playing well and Michael Clayton. We have numbers now where we can put guys in different positions and they can go out there and play well.”

Manning went on to say that like their injury-riddled offensive line, which has still managed to move along without a hitch, the receiving corps will also adjust just fine.

“One guy is never going to decide whether you win or lose a game. We always have confidence once the game plan is in that with the talent we have on this team, we can go out there and win,” Manning said, adding that he doesn’t foresee the game plan being scaled back too much. “We are better prepared now since we’ve had some new receivers in the past month. The fact we have guys who have been there the past month and these receivers now have more confidence understanding our offense, we should be able to do everything that we need to do.”

 
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