NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Whether a two-game skid and a tough upcoming schedule could combine to spell doom for the New York Giants is a question Eli Manning sees little point in addressing right now.
"It’s not about who our next opponent is or what the standings are in the division," Manning said as the Giants (6-4) prepared for their matchup with the Saints (7-3) in New Orleans on Monday night.
"When you start looking ahead or trying to calculate other teams that teams in our division are playing, and wins and losses, or how many games you have to win to get in the playoffs, that’s when you lose focus."
Giants coach Tom Coughlin is in no mood to dwell on whether the Giants’ season is on the brink, either.
"It’s interesting that after a couple of seven-point losses we are going to talk about that," Coughlin said this week when asked about the potential for a late-season swoon. "It’s difficult for me to understand why there’s nothing more prevalent to talk about than that."
While consecutive close loses to San Francisco and Philadelphia could hardly be considered shocking, the timing of New York’s slide could not be much worse.
The Dallas Cowboys’ recent surge has vaulted them to a half-game lead in the NFC East, meaning the Giants must now try to keep pace by winning in New Orleans, where the Saints are 4-0 this season.
If the Giants’ difficulties persist in the Big Easy, they’ll face the prospect of a four-game losing streak when they host unbeaten Green Bay the following week.
New Orleans also has tough games coming up, but that’s a more comfortable topic of discussion for the Saints, who’ve won two straight and enter Week 12 with a one-game lead over Atlanta in the NFC South.
Following its meeting with a desperate Giants squad that only a few weeks ago played well enough to knock off the Patriots in New England, New Orleans will then host Detroit.
"We have a couple of conference games coming up that could affect playoff positioning, which I know we aspire to be there, as do the two teams we’re playing coming up," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "It’s very much strategic. These games mean that much more because of that."
If the Giants want to reverse their fortunes, they’ll likely have to find a way to slow down Brees, whose 3,326 yards passing led the league through last week’s games and represented the most yards passing through 10 games in NFL history.
Coughlin hopes New York can manage that with pressure from a defensive line as formidable as any in the league. Defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora have combined for 17 1/2 sacks.
"You have to have a little bit of the approach that the Rams used," Coughlin said, referring to the six-sack performance of St. Louis’ defense in a shocking upset of the Saints in Week 8. "They played very well against New Orleans and seemed to get to the quarterback."
Brees figures he’ll have to get rid of the ball as quickly and accurately as he has all season.
"What I see is a defense that does a great job of getting after the quarterback, that does a great job taking the ball away and taking advantage of those opportunities when they have it," Brees said. "You have to play extremely smart against them. You can’t be one dimensional. You have to be able to run the ball as well as throw it."
New Orleans has demonstrated this season that it can run the ball well, though not always consistently. The Saints do have their top four running backs — Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory — all healthy coming out of their bye week, though it remains to be seen whether all four will be active.
"Running the football has been a point of emphasis," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Certainly we have a lot of confidence in Drew Brees in the pocket and outside of the pocket. I also know and recognize the ally that a running attack provides the quarterback and the importance of that."
The Saints’ running game ranks in the top half of the league, 13th overall.
Surprisingly, the Giants, who’ve run the ball well in recent seasons, rank second-to-last in rushing with 83.2 yards per game. Still, Payton warned it would be foolish to underestimate New York’s ground game.
"Although their statistics haven’t been as strong as in years past, I don’t think their commitment has changed at all," Payton said. "I would expect that to be something they’ll work very hard at and try to correct."
That’s not the only thing the Giants want to fix.
Defensive back Antrel Rolle said his team needs to summon and sustain more emotion on the field. That, he said, might have made the difference in their last loss to the Eagles, and could be vital in New Orleans.
"We are too calm out there and football is not a game for you to be calm," Rolle said. "It is a game of attitude. It is a game of emotion."