New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning(notes) is returning to finally play an NFL game in the city where he grew up. He will also see a familiar face in a player that was once one of his favorite targets.
This trip promises to be a special one for Manning. His main concern is helping New York (5-0) remain perfect after he played less than a half in last week’s 44-7 rout of Oakland due to plantar fasciitis suffered the week before.
Manning missed two days of practice last week and took a limited number of snaps Wednesday as a precaution against aggravating his heel.
His father, Archie, quarterbacked the Saints when Manning was a youngster, and his parents live about 10 minutes away from the Superdome.
“I am excited about it,” Manning said. “First time playing in the Superdome, ever, for any level of football. I am excited about getting the opportunity to play where my father spent most of his career, going to back to New Orleans and playing New Orleans, who is playing very well this year.
“Two undefeated teams. It should be a great atmosphere.”
Shockey will face the Giants for the first time since the tight end was traded to New Orleans (4-0) shortly before training camps opened in 2008. He spent six years with New York, reaching the Pro Bowl four times while blossoming with Manning as his quarterback.
Those years were marked, however, by numerous incidents, including a shouting feud with general manager Jerry Reese right before being traded. Shockey was critical of the way the Giants treated him during their run to the Super Bowl title two years ago, saying he did not feel welcome at team events or on the sideline during the playoffs.
On Wednesday, Shockey refused to discuss his feelings about the Giants.
“It’s not about me, all right? So no more questions (about that). It’s about two teams going against each other,” he said. “I want to make that clear. There’s already been some references about vendettas and stuff like that. It’s about two teams. It’s two great teams playing against each other.”
Giants players believe Shockey will be trying to prove a point Sunday. After an injury-plagued 2008 season, he currently leads New Orleans with 18 receptions and has 162 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
“I think Jeremy, just like any competitive guy, wants to get the ball and feels like any safety or linebacker is a great matchup and that he is going to get open,” Brees said. “Which the majority of the time he does, he is a great player. I think he fits very well into what we are trying to do.”
Manning and Brees rank second and third in quarterback rating this season, but both teams also have strong ground attacks. That’s not surprising for the Giants, who led the league in rushing last year and rank fourth in 2009 with 160.4 yards per game.
New Orleans, though, ranked 28th in that department last year and now features the second-best rushing attack in the NFL at 166.2 yards per game.
“This certainly presents a very real challenge,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose club also owns the league’s top defense. “Our guys have to rise up and play well against the run. As I said, there are a lot of things to defend. But certainly that is where it all starts for us, is with the run.”
The Saints, meanwhile, will try to stop a New York attack that also features Steve Smith, who leads the league with 37 catches and 481 yards receiving.
New Orleans’ defense is ranked sixth in the league, and the improved unit is guided by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is familiar to New York from his days with Washington.
“Yeah, it’s his defense,” Manning said. “A lot of different schemes based by the game and some of it is the stuff he ran back at Washington and some of it is new stuff. But they can be very aggressive.”
Brees is 2-0 against the Giants, including a 30-7 road win Dec. 24, 2006 in the last meeting between these teams. He’ll be up against the league’s top-rated secondary that includes former LSU cornerback Corey Webster(notes).
This is the Giants’ second trip to the Superdome since 1995. They lost 45-7 in 2003 and a scheduled matchup in 2005 was shifted to Giants Stadium due to Hurricane Katrina as New York won 27-10.