Much of the talk before the Giants' game in Philadelphia last week concerned the defensive backs and how they would fare against the Eagles speedy wide receiver duo of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. The secondary did just fine, holding the two wideouts to a combined seven catches for 99 yards, a long gain of 24 yards and no touchdowns as the Giants won, 29-16.
But that might have been a mere warmup to what the secondary will encounter this week. When the Giants play the Arizona Cardinals Sunday in University of Phoenix Stadium, the home team's primary weapon will likely be Larry Fitzgerald, who belongs in any discussion of the NFL's very best receivers.
"He's a big play receiver," said cornerback Aaron Ross. "He's physical, he can come off the ball, get off the jam and you think you have blanket coverage on him and the quarterback will throw the ball up to him and he'll go up there and get it. The play's never over with him."
"Larry Fitzgerald," said Coach Tom Coughlin, "(is a) guy that every team recognizes and tries to defend.
Easier said than done. Fitzgerald, 6-3 and 211 pounds, caught at least 90 passes in each of the previous four years and is the first player in NFL history with that many catches in five of his first seven seasons. He holds the Cardinals franchise records for receptions (628) and touchdown catches (67, which he established with a 12-yard reception on which he out-jumped two defenders for the ball last week in Seattle). He also has a 73-yard touchdown catch at Washington in Week 2, and his 17.3-yard average is second among NFL receivers with at least 13 receptions. It should be noted, however, that Early Doucet, who is second on the team with 10 catches, averages 17.5 yards per reception and has a 70-yard touchdown on his stat line.
"You're talking about a different physical style - but the same kind of problem," Coughlin said in comparing the secondary's challenge last week to this game. "They have a guy with a 17-yard average and 73-yard touchdown on a double move against the Redskins, who went up over the top of people and took the ball off of their heads the other day for a touchdown."
Giants safety Antrel Rolle knows how difficult it is to stop Fitzgerald, because he was the receiver's teammate for five seasons in Arizona.
"When people are successful against him, they normally throw double coverage at him," Rolle said. "I've never seen a single corner shut him down – I'm not saying that it can't be done, but I can't say that I've seen it done. We're going in with a game plan. Larry Fitzgerald's not going to be our only focus, although everyone here is aware of his talents and his capabilities as a receiver, but we're focusing on the Arizona Cardinals as a group."
Fitzgerald is eager to face his former teammate.
"I love Antrel, he is like a brother to me and we spent so many quality years together," Fitzgerald said on a conference call. "I am looking forward to playing against him. I am looking forward to the matchup. I don't know what Coach Coughlin and Coach Fewell (Perry, the defensive coordinator) are going to do, but I know those guys are going to be ready. Anytime you play a Tom Coughlin football team, you can expect a few things. You can expect a disciplined team that is hard working and not going to make a lot of mental mistakes. They are going to take advantage of your mistakes. We have to make sure that we don't go out there and turn the ball over and give those guys extra possessions."
Cornerback Corey Webster said the Giants will do nothing radical in their attempt to ground the Cardinals' passing attack.
"Larry Fitzgerald does a great job, but we can only control what we can control and that is getting better every week and doing the little things right," Webster said. "Hopefully, we put ourselves in position to make those plays and not give up those big plays to any receiver that is known for making big plays like a Larry Fitzgerald or a DeSean Jackson. All we can control is getting out and doing what the coaches ask us to do and being in a good position when the ball is in the air and hopefully we can make a play on it."
Fitzgerald has a new quarterback throwing to him this year in Kevin Kolb, who was obtained in a trade with Philadelphia on July 29. Kolb has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 812 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.
"He's a good quarterback," Ross said. "He was in Philly so he knows us a little better than a normal Arizona quarterback would know us. He can make all the throws; he throws the (corner) route really well, fade balls, flats. He can make all the throws so he's a good quarterback."
"He's a good, young quarterback - very agile, very mobile," Rolle said. "Those are the quarterbacks you have to keep your eye on. He's got a great corps of receivers. He has young talent, he has a lot talent around him and he's looking to work for them."
Fitzgerald said the passing attack has plenty of room to improve.
"There is obviously work to be done," he said. "(Kolb) is getting used to me and I am getting used to him. He is getting used to the offense so it is totally different. We are working diligently to make it easier for each other and we are going to continue to do that."
The Giants secondary enters the Arizona game with increased confidence. After four consecutive opposing quarterbacks (including two last year) threw for more than 300 yards against the Giants, Philadelphia's Michael Vick and Mike Kafka combined to pass for 211 yards in the Giants victory last Sunday.
"I think we focused better on our responsibility more than just focusing on the other team," Ross said. "We were trying to make sure were alright in our position and technique and I think that's what brought us out on top."
The game was particularly satisfying to Ross, who had been benched briefly the week before in a victory over St. Louis. He intercepted two passes to lead the Giants' defensive effort against the Eagles. But Webster insists the Ross we saw last week was the same one who was on the field against the Rams.
"I didn't see a difference from the week before," Webster said. "A receiver is going to catch some balls, they get paid to do the opposite of what we do. Sometimes receivers are going to catch some balls but it is how you respond to it. You have to have a short-term memory as a DB, so it doesn't really bother me. I don't think it affected him. We just have to keep on working and getting better and if it happens, you just have to show your perseverance and sticking with what you have been coached to do. He has the skill set and it is not going anywhere."
"The players, the coaches, and I believe in me," Ross said, "so it's more of the people on the outside that start to believe a little more."
If Ross and his secondary mates can keep Fitzgerald in check, they will pick up some more new believers.
*Rolle said he will not get overly emotional facing the Cardinals, who selected him eighth overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. Rolle played in Super Bowl XLIII following the 2008 season and was a Pro Bowler in 2009 with the Cardinals.
"This is a first time for me - I've never had to play a team I was once with - but, I'm going there and playing a game," Rolle said. "I'm going to be the same player I am week-in and week-out.
"We had a great relationship there. I have nothing bad to say about the Cardinals at all. We're competitors. When we're on the field, it's business first. We'll shake hands after the game."
*Mario Manningham and Osi Umenyiora returned to practice today on a limited basis.
Manningham did not travel to Philadelphia for the Giants' 29-16 victory over the Eagles because of a concussion suffered on Sept. 19 vs. St. Louis.
"I'm good," Manningham said after the workout. "I went out there and practiced and did individual and team. I did everything and I feel better." Asked if he expcted to play in Arizona, Manningham said, "Yes, I will be there on Sunday."
Umenyiora had not played nor practiced with the team during the Giants' 2-1 start. The two-time Pro Bowler had arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 19 and had since rehabbed and performed individual drills.
"There will be (limitations), but he's out there," Coach Tom Coughlin said prior to the practice. "I don't think he thinks there are any kind of limitations, I really don't.
"I would like to have Osi get some practice time. I think he definitely needs to spend some time on the field with his teammates to put himself back in those (game) situations. Then, if we're perhaps fortunate enough to not have any problems, we can make adjustments (to his practice schedule)."
Coughlin has not said if Umenyiora will start – or even if he will play. Jason Pierre-Paul has started in his place at right end and leads the team and is tied for second in the NFL with 4.5 sacks. But Pierre-Paul said he would have no problem with Umenyiora re-claiming the starting job.
"I knew when he came back he would get his starting position back. It is cool," Pierre-Paul said. "The way I play, when they put me in, I am going to get a sack, regardless. It is not if you start, you can come off the bench and you can do the same thing. It is just the way you play. There are enough snaps. I am going to get at least 40 or 50 snaps every game, because people do get tired."
Defensive end Justin Tuck (groin/neck) and cornerback Prince Amukamara (foot) did not practice.
"He's made good progress both days, so we're encouraged by that part," Coughlin said of Tuck.
Amukamara, the first-round draft who broke his foot on Aug. 6, is "a ways away," according to Coughlin.
Wide receiver Brandon Stokley left practice early with a strained quad.
*Eli Manning was officially named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his four-touchdown, no-interception performance in Philadelphia. The NFL announcement included some notable tidbits about Manning's terrific outing.
The Giants entered the fourth quarter trailing 16-14, but Manning led two touchdown drives – completing six of seven passes (85.7 percent) for 85 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 156.8 passer rating – to lead the Giants to victory.
Manning was the first Eagles opponent to throw for at least four touchdown passes in a victory at Philadelphia since 1989, when San Francisco's Joe Montana passed for five touchdowns.
The Player of the Week Award was Manning's second and first since 2006. He is the third quarterback in franchise history to win multiple Player of the Week Awards, joining Kerry Collins (four) and Phil Simms (two).
*Bill Parcells, who coached the Giants to a pair of Super Bowl victories, and Tiki Barber, the franchise's career rushing leader, are among the 11 first-year eligible modern-era candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2012. The group also includes quarterback Drew Bledsoe, wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, guard Will Shields, and coaches Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer.
The complete list of nominees for the Class of 2012 consists of 103 candidates. From that list of nominees, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will choose 25 candidates who will advance as semifinalist nominees. The list of 25 semifinalists will be announced in mid-November.
The list of 25 semifinalists will be further reduced by a mail ballot to 15 modern-era finalists and announced in early January. The Class of 2012 will be selected from the list of 17 finalists (15 modern-era and two senior nominees). The actual voting will be conducted at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee's annual meeting, which will be held on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, the day before Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The election results will be announced that evening.
*The Giants signed linebacker Antonio Coleman to their practice squad. Coleman entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2010. Last season, he played in eight games for the Bills, primarily on special teams, though he did appear in seven in a limited defensive role. He was credited with 12 tackles (seven solo). Coleman, 6-1 and 248 pounds, played at Auburn. He was waived by the Bills on Sept. 3.
The Giants terminated the practice squad contract of quarterback Ryan Perrilloux.
*The NFL and NFL Players will support October's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month with their largest on-field presence and a national screening reminder and fundraising campaign. In collaboration with the American Cancer Society, the initiative, called "A Crucial Catch: Annual Screening Saves Lives," encourages annual mammograms for women over 40.
Beginning on October 2 and continuing throughout the month, NFL Breast Cancer Awareness games will feature footballs with pink ribbon decals, on-field pink ribbon stencils, and many pink items, including cleats, wristbands, gloves, chin straps, sideline caps, pins, helmet decals, eye shield decals, captains' patches, sideline towels and quarterback towels.
To learn more about the campaign, go to www.NFL.com/pink.