As Giants Step Up to Varsity, Eli Must Play Homecoming King - NBC New York

As Giants Step Up to Varsity, Eli Must Play Homecoming King

Saints haven't faced a quarterback like Manning



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    On these pages and many others, the Giants' first five opponents have been derided as being the NFL's junior varsity. It's not unfair, five total wins in five weeks speaks to their generally awful nature, but it has led to something being ignored during the run-up to this week's game with the Saints.

    The Saints haven't faced a team like the Giants, either. The Jets and Eagles are good football teams, but they each were starting inexperienced quarterbacks against a defense that's gone from nondescript to fearsome overnight. Maybe they are as scary as advertised and maybe adding Darren Sharper at safety has made that big a difference, but maybe they've just been aggressive against quarterbacks who aren't used to handling pressure?

    The Saints brought the house against Mark Sanchez two weeks ago and were rewarded by a quarterback who locked onto receivers and hesitated instead of throwing the ball away under pressure. They had the same success with Kevin Kolb, Matthew Stafford and Trent Edwards, none of whom are going to be confused with Pro Bowl quarterbacks anytime in the near future. This isn't a slam of their defense, because you attack other teams where they're weakest, but they won't get that kind of help this weekend. 

    Eli Manning has faced snarling defenses in unfriendly confines before. He hasn't always won those games, nor has he always played his best games in those situations but he isn't likely to turn in a performance as full of errors as the ones turned in against the Saints thus far this season. Gregg Williams, the Saints defensive coordinator, knows that, of course, and he's had two weeks to cook up a scheme for the best offense the Saints have faced but it will force his team to show they can do more than just pin their ears back and attack.

    None of this means the Giants will have an easy time on their hands. Their pass rushers are used to porous lines and their receivers are used to coverages provided by teams that give Manning hours to throw his passes. They'll need a Brandon Jacobs who doesn't run scared, cornerbacks who keep playing above their reputations and linebackers who can run with Reggie Bush and Jeremy Shockey.

    For the Saints, this feels like a shot at confirmation of their spectacular start. For the Giants, it is a chance to start showing everyone they're good instead of just telling and assuming that they are. That should make for an interesting Sunday in the Superdome.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to and in addition to his duties for