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Giants vs. Saints: Week 4 Storylines

Here are five storylines heading into the Giants’ Week 4 matchup with the Saints:

1. Reality vs. mirage. In his affirmation of Eli Manning, incoming general manager Dave Gettleman said over the offseason that the quarterback’s 434-yard, three-touchdown performance against the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles late last season was “not a mirage.” Now the football world is wondering the same thing about the 2018 New York Football Giants, who last week put it all together for their first win of the season but did so against a winless opponent. And so it goes in the NFL, where teams need to prove it each week. The 1-2 Giants will look to even their record in Week 4 at home against the 2-1 New Orleans Saints.

“I think last week we had great urgency and understanding what we had to fix it and get better,” said Manning, who had his second-highest completion percentage (86.2) and 10th-best passer rating (132.3) of his career against Houston. “I think you have to have that same mentality. We got to fix things from last week that there were mistakes and I think that’s the mindset is to get better and improve each and every week.”

2. OV, Apple back in time for Saints offense? Outside linebacker Olivier Vernon has yet to play this season after injuring his ankle in practice on Aug. 26. Cornerback Eli Apple missed last week’s game with a groin injury that he suffered the week before in Dallas. Coach Pat Shurmur said they are “hopeful” for this week, but with a high ankle sprain and a groin issue, there is not always a hard timeline on those. Vernon was limited in Wednesday's practice while Apple was unable to participate. The Giants need all the defensive manpower they can get when the Saints come to town. New Orleans ranks fourth in yards per game (428.0), third in passing (345.3) and second in points (34.7).

3. New-new-look offensive line. The Giants used “one and a half” new offensive linemen in their first win of the season. After John Halapio suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 2, John Greco, who played in relief in Dallas, started at center. And then Shurmur made the call to replace Ereck Flowers with Chad Wheeler at right tackle. These moves came after an offseason in which the Giants broke in new starters at all five positions.

“I thought Chad did a good job of finishing blocks because it was fresh, watching him play,” Shurmur said. “Then I thought the other guys, the enthusiasm that we showed, I told the players the guys that were here a year ago feel 3-13, the guys that were here just for the first time this year felt 0-2. So, when the game gets to one score, we’ve all been places where you wonder when the other shoe is going to fall. Well, that wasn’t the case. We dug in, and I thought the enthusiasm that the players played with helped fuel that, because throughout the game, I never had a sense that we were going to lose it.”

Asked about how Flowers handled the decision, Shurmur said, “He handled it like most guys would.” And that is? “‘Ok, Coach.’ That was it. Not enough there for a mini-series, just ‘Ok,’” Shurmur said. “Then there’s the part of the conversation of, ‘You need to be ready to go because you’re the third tackle, so keep your mind into it and get back out there, and play well.’”

4. Filling the Engram void. Evoking the memory of Mark Bavaro, who epitomized the toughness of the Giants’ 1986 and 1990 championship teams, means a little something around the facility. Shurmur did it on Wednesday when he talked about Rhett Ellison taking on more snaps with fellow tight end Evan Engram (knee) sidelined for an undetermined period of time. Ellison had three catches for 39 yards in Week 3, including a 16-yard touchdown catch as the Giants came away with points on each of their first four possessions.

“I’m fond of Rhett, who he is as a player and as a person,” said Shurmur, who also coached him for a season in Minnesota. “He epitomizes a player that you want on your team. He’s very good at what he does, he can line up anywhere, he finds a way to make plays. Some guys just have a knack for that. He finds a way to make plays. Very trustworthy and very tough, and he’s wired like a football player, and that is what you’re looking for. I made the analogy, and this probably isn’t fair because I don’t know Mark Bavaro that well, but I sensed the same kind of aura when I met him the other night – just a tough guy that’s going to do what he’s asked and let the chips fall. That’s what Rhett is.”

5. Brees, now the NFL’s all-time completions leader, is not the only QB to worry about on Sunday. In all likelihood, Saints quarterback Drew Brees will break every significant passing record, but last week he made one official – completions. Even so, he isn’t the only quarterback on the roster who can hurt defenses. The Saints also utilize the unique skillset of Taysom Hill, a third-string quarterback/special teams ace/kickoff returner/read-option threat. Last week alone, Hill returned three kickoffs for 64 yards, made a special teams tackle, and rushed three times for 39 yards, including two key third-down pickups and a 35-yard run. At the same time, the Giants can’t discount what Brees can do with his legs. The 39-year-old ran for two touchdowns in a wild victory in Atlanta. The first tied the game with 1:15 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the second won the game in overtime.

“No surprise,” Manning, 37, said. “Watched Drew play in college and his whole career. Known him for a long time so just he keeps doing it. He keeps being able to throw the ball accurately and still got great arm strength and get down the field, still runs around and looks young out there.”

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