The Giants may be in a mini-slump and beginning to answer questions about yet another late-season swoon, but don’t count the Saints as a team that is taking them lightly.
Following Sunday’s demoralizing loss to an undermanned Eagles team, the Giants (6-4) have fallen into a first-place tie with the Cowboys and are now in the midst of the hardest part of its schedule, beginning with Monday night’s matchup in New Orleans.
The only thing falling faster than the morale of Big Blue fans is the Giants’ rushing stats. But even though the Giants currently sit at 30th in the league in that category, Saints head coach Sean Payton said he won’t be taking things for granted. He believes it’s only a matter of time before the running game clicks. He just hopes it doesn’t start on Monday.
“There’s a number of things that can lead to a dropoff. Knowing Tom Coughlin, their commitment to running the football hasn’t wavered at all and they’ll try [to re-establish the run],” Payton said. “It was the same with us [because] early on [the run game] wasn’t there, but week-to-week we’ve gotten better. Generally, you have to do a better job up front [and] a better job with the receivers blocking downfield. From our standpoint, we’ve spent a great deal of time working on it. … Everyone is involved in a productive run [play].”
Payton then went on to explain the problems the Giants cause on the other side of the ball — specifically with Big Blue’s penchant for getting after the quarterback with solely a four-man rush. The Giants’ 31 sacks tie them with Minnesota and Washington for the NFL lead.
“Statistically speaking, just their defensive front and without any blitzes or dogs [zone blitzes], they do as good a job as anyone,” Payton said. “We talked about the type of front we’ll see. They’re very talented. Our players certainly see on film the type of players they have. It’ll be a challenge.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees will find out firsthand what it’ll be like to face such a manic pass rush. The record-setting passer said he’s seen his share of great defenses this season, but feels the Giants offer the best.
“It’ll be our toughest test this year [because] there’s always things to worry about as far as schemes and matchups. They’re No. 1 in the league in sacks and they’ve caused a turnover in I think an NFL-record 20 consecutive games or something like that,” Brees said. “What I see is a defense that does a great job at getting after the quarterback and taking the ball away. You have to be smart and not be one-dimensional and take advantage of the opportunities to find [favorable] matchups … and also find a little luck along the way.”
Brees is on pace to break Dan Marino’s 1984 single-season yardage record (5,084), so he knows something about dissecting a defense. He also knows what it’s like to be under the white-hot NFL spotlight as a starting quarterback. When asked his feelings on Eli Manning, Brees was effusive in praise and was in awe of Manning’s ascension.
“He’s having a great season, I think,” Brees said, adding he and Manning have gotten close since Brees signed with New Orleans in 2006. “To see what he’s done [despite the bad rushing totals] is great [because] the more balanced you are the better you can be in the passing game. And he’s doing a great job.”
Payton agreed, adding how he has admired Manning’s ability to execute despite being handcuffed by the running game. Payton, a former offensive coordinator for the Giants in the early 2000s and a replacement player at quarterback during the 1987 strike season, knows a thing about great quarterback play. He also knows what it’s like performing in New York, which is why he also marveled at what the sometimes-maligned Manning has done.
“They haven’t had the type of success rushing the football as I’m sure they would’ve liked, and that’s perhaps the biggest ally for a quarterback,” Payton said. “But even though they don’t have those numbers he’s been very successful. He’s having a fantastic season.”
Big Blue notes
»Jason Pierre-Paul is third in the NFL with 10.5 sacks. He trails league-leader DeMarcus Ware of Dallas by 3.5 sacks.
»Victor Cruz leads the Giants in all three major receiving categories with 46 catches for 800 yards and five touchdowns. Cruz is on pace to finish the season with 1,280 yards, which would be the second-highest total in Giants history and challenge Amani Toomer’s record of 1,343, set in 2002.
»Mark Herzlich became the second rookie free agent to start for the team this season. The other was fullback Henry Hynoski, who started three games, most recently at Arizona on Oct. 2. Before Herzlich, the last undrafted rookie to start on defense for the Giants was cornerback Bruce Johnson at Minnesota on Jan. 3, 2010.
»Eli Manning’s fourth-quarter passer rating of 120.5 leads the NFL (Packers passer Aaron Rodgers is second at 111.2). In the final quarter, Manning has completed 73 of 107 passes (68.2 percent) for a league-high 1,081 yards (and an NFL-best 10.10 yards per attempt), 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.
» Kenny Phillips, Aaron Ross and Prince Amukamara all recorded interceptions Sunday. It was the first time the Giants had at least three picks in a game and lost since Sept. 24, 2006 (42-30 in Seattle). The Giants had won 11 consecutive games in which they intercepted three or more passes.
»The Giants pulled off an NFL rarity of losing despite those three interceptions. The Giants are the only team to lose a game despite the feat, as teams are 26-1. In the five years since the start of the 2007 season, those teams are 191-22-1 (.893 winning percentage).
»Brees has forged a great bond with former Saints quarterback great Archie Manning, father of both Eli and Peyton. But whenever Brees, the adopted son of New Orleans, goes against one of Archie’s sons, who were born and raised there, it’s obvious where the father’s allegiance lies. Brees said he often gets weekly encouraging calls or texts from Archie, but whenever Brees faces one of the Manning boys the elder Manning sends a playful text saying, “You’re on your own this week, buddy.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.