EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants face one of the NFL's best receiving tandems without one of their starting cornerbacks.
Eli Apple today was declared out of Sunday's game in Houston against the Texans. The third-year corner suffered a groin injury last Sunday night in Dallas. Five-year veteran and first-year Giant B.W. Webb is expected to start at left corner. He started at nickel back vs. the Cowboys, but moved to the corner when Apple left the game.
Apple is one of two defensive starters who will not play in Houston; linebacker Olivier Vernon will miss his third consecutive game with an ankle injury. They are the only two players on the Giants' final injury report.
The Texans' starting wideouts are 2017 All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins and the dangerous Will Fuller V, who combined for 22 receptions, 301 yards and two touchdowns in the first two games. In a three-point loss last week in Tennessee, Fuller had eight catches for 113 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown, and Hopkins caught six passes for 110 yards, one of them a 28-yard score.
"You got some great receivers over there," Webb said. "I know Hopkins and Fuller. Fuller is a real fast guy and got real good hands, and you know Hopkins is Hopkins, great hands, great ball skills, so you got to be ready to come in and play."
Both teams presumably will, since they are 0-2 and very much want to savor their first victory of the season.
Houston has the NFL's top rushing attack through the season's first two weeks, but its passing game should continue to improve as quarterback Deshaun Watson, who missed the final nine games last season after tearing his ACL, improves his rhythm with Hopkins and Fuller.
"(They have) two very dynamic players on the perimeter," defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. "You saw Fuller last week had a really, really great game to complement (number) 10 (Hopkins). They're going to match you up. They're going to push the ball down the field. They're going to take some shots. Then, they're going to have some routes where we know that 10 is going to try to get some targets, and get him the ball and get him early."
When they do, there's a good chance Janoris Jenkins will be nearby. The 2016 second-team All-Pro is the Giants' most accomplished cornerback. Neither Jenkins nor Bettcher will discuss if the star corner will shadow Hopkins, who had 96 catches for 1,378 yards and 13 touchdown last season. But the two players are likely to see a lot of each other on the field Sunday.
"Janoris, he is a special player," Bettcher said. "He's one of the best corners in this league, and there's no question about that. Does he want the deep ball back (in Dallas, Jenkins stumbled and Tavon Austin zoomed past him to catch a 68-yard touchdown pass on the game's third play). Sure, but guess what, plays happen in games. I've been around a great corner before that's given up a play before. So, I don't have any question about if that matchup happens and they happen to be on each other in this game, they're going to go compete, and fight, and scrap, and be the player that he is. You just got to be aware of where 10 is. You got to be aware of where he is on the field, and that's whether Janoris is on him or whether anyone else ends up on him."
"(He has the) ability to catch the ball anywhere," safety Landon Collins said of Hopkins. "If it's in arms-length, I would say even fingers-length, he can definitely catch it. That's what he does."
Does Jenkins expect to cover Hopkins most of the game?
"I don't know, you tell me," he said. "I'm just going to go out there and play football. You'll have to wait and see on Sunday."
In the first two games, the Giants faced starting wide receivers Keelan Cole and Donte Moncrief of Jacksonville and Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley and Deonte Thompson of Dallas. Hopkins and Fuller are a step up in talent, though Jenkins professes not to care.
"You can say that (Houston's receivers are superior)." Jenkins said. "To me, everybody on the field is good. Treat everybody the same."
The coaches know they will be challenged by a Houston offense that likes to throw deep passes.
"I think it puts stress on the different coverages that you're trying to do and you have to make sure, obviously, that you're accountable for that," secondary coach Lou Anarumo said. "We do every week and we're aware of it, but it adds to it when you got receivers of that caliber that are doing those types of routes. So we want to make sure that hey, 15 (Fuller), he's going deep and certainly 10 (Hopkins) is great at the point of attack with the ball. We're aware of it."
This will be the first big test in a Giants uniform for Webb, who did not play in a regular-season game in 2017 when he was with the Cleveland Browns for nine days late in the season. He signed with the Giants on March 9.
Webb was the Cowboys' fourth-round draft choice in 2013, from William & Mary. He played 13 games for Dallas that year, 11 for Pittsburgh in 2014, nine for Tennessee in 2015, and 14 for New Orleans in 2016. Webb has played both in the slot and on the corner and said he has no preference.
"I'm going to play wherever they tell me to play," Webb said. "Coach does a great job in getting me prepared wherever I'm at on the field, so wherever they put me I'm alright with that."
Against Hopkins and Fuller, the Giants are going to need him to be on top of his game on Sunday.
*Linebacker Connor Barwin (knee) practiced fully after missing Wednesday's workout and being limited yesterday. Tight end Evan Engram (ankle) was also a full participant one day after being limited.