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Giants defense face task in Drew Brees-Eli Manning matchup

September 27, 2018

FILE - At left, in a Sept. 23, 2018, file photo, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) works against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game, in Atlanta. At right, in an Aug. 24, 2018, file photo, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) looks to pass against the New York Jets during the first half of an NFL football game, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Saints play at the Giants on Sunday, Sept. 30. (AP Photo/File)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — While there is a chance Drew Brees and Eli Manning will get involved in one of those 30-plus shootouts when the New Orleans Saints face the New York Giants this weekend, it’s more likely a defense is going to determine the winner.

The 39-year-old Brees and the Saints (2-1) are coming into MetLife Stadium on Sunday averaging more than 34 points. That’s more than troublesome for the Giants (1-2) and the 37-year-old Manning. New York has not scored 30 points since the final game of Tom Coughlin’s coaching tenure in 2015.

If the Saints run true to form, the Giants are in trouble. That puts a burden on defensive coordinator James Bettcher. The good news is New York has not given up more than 22 points in a game with its new 3-4 defense.

Bettcher isn’t looking for Manning and the offense to bail him out.

“The only thing we worry about on the defensive side of the ball is getting stops,” Bettcher said. “We got to get some three-and-outs, we got to create some turnovers. Doesn’t matter where the ball’s put down on the field, doesn’t matter what the score is in the game, whether you’re up three or down three, in my mind it doesn’t matter, we play.”

The Giants have done a good job of stopping the run, but their secondary struggled last week with cornerback Eli Apple sidelined with a hamstring injury. He is iffy this week.

Brees has been phenomenal this season, hitting 80 percent of his passes.

“He’s confident in what we’re doing and understanding each week, it’s just trying to put ourselves in a position to win,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I really think statistically, the other stuff is just icing on the cake. He really looks at it like, how do I advance my team into the end zone? How do we win the game, reduce turnovers and do all the things necessary to win that week?”

The last time the Giants played the Saints, New York won 16-13 at home. In the previous game, New Orleans posted a 52-49 win at home in a game Brees threw for 505 yards and seven TDs, and Manning threw for 350 yards and six TDs.

“Obviously you could always do more, but yeah felt like we had played a great game and lost, and that’s what a lot of teams would’ve felt against the Saints,” Manning said in recalling the game. “They got the ability to score a lot of points.”

Things to watch in the game:

RECORD CHASE

Brees is closing in on one of the more significant career records for an NFL quarterback: the 71,940 yards passing by Eli’s older brother, Peyton Manning. He needs 417 yards and has passed for more than that in a game 13 times in his career, including his 439 yards in this season’s opener against the Bucs. Just don’t expect Brees to discuss setting the record before it happens. “Nope. One at a time. One at a time,” Brees said this week. “That stuff takes care of itself.”

WHEELING AND DEALING

Chad Wheeler replaced Ereck Flowers at right tackle for the Giants last weekend and his run blocking was good. His pass blocking wasn’t. He allowed J.J. Watt to get three sacks by almost whiffing on blocks. Giants coach Pat Shurmur took the blame, saying he should have given Wheeler help. This week will be tough with the Saints having Cameron Jordan (four sacks) at left end.

ACTIVE ALVIN

With running back Mark Ingram serving a four-game suspension for use of a banned substance, New Orleans has leaned heavily on Alvin Kamara, the 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year. Last week in Atlanta, he carried 16 times for 66 yards and caught 15 passes for 124. Through three games, Kamara has 37 carries for 141 yards and two TDs, and 30 receptions for 289 yards and one touchdown.

TIGHT SPOT

The Giants will be without top tight end Evan Engram with a sprained knee. He was hurt last weekend and probably is going to miss a couple of weeks. Veteran Rhett Ellison must pick up the load, backed by Scott Simonson and rookie Garrett Dickerson, who was just signed off the practice squad. None of the three can stretch the field like Engram, who has 10 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. Ellison had three catches for 39 yards last week, including a 16-yard TD.

COVERAGE CONCERNS

The Saints are trying to straighten out their secondary. New Orleans ranks 30th against the pass, allowing 336.7 yards passing per game. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore, the 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year, has avoided giving up big plays since Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans caught seven passes for 147 yards in the opener. But cornerbacks Ken Crawley and P.J. Williams, as well as New Orleans’ safeties, struggled last weekend against Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley, who caught seven passes for 146 yards and three scores. The Saints lost top nickel cornerback Patrick Robinson for the season last weekend with an ankle injury.

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AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.

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