METAIRIE, La. — Eli Manning still gets the question.
You know the one, about what makes a quarterback elite and whether he fits in the category.
And now, as then, he still doesn’t really care for it.
“As of now, it’s not really a concern,” Manning said. “I am not worried about where I rank among other quarterbacks or how people rank me. My concern is trying to play good football, get wins for the Giants and having a good season.”
Elite or not, he is a concern for the Saints (5-7), who play Manning and the Giants (7-5) on Sunday at 3:25 p.m. at MetLife Stadium.
The two-time Super Bowl MVP is having what could be considered an average year. But he’s down from his 2011 season, when he threw for a career-best 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns, finishing with a 92.9 quarterback rating.
This season, his quarterback rating is down to 84.3 and he has thrown 15 touchdowns but 11 interceptions. His 2,890 yards is only 16th-best in the NFL.
Not that those inside the Saints organization are buying that he has fallen off any.
“Most quarterbacks, when you play them you want to disrupt the inside tackle box from guard to guard so that the quarterback can’t step up and get some power behind his throw,” Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. “Eli receives the ball and can throw off his back foot and has the ability to just turn his shoulders right at the last second to avoid any contact.
“He does all of that and he’s extremely accurate. It’s impressive to watch.”
It helps that he has a bevy of players to throw to, athletes that can, at times, be impossible to cover.
Victor Cruz had 883 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 13 yards per catch. Receiver Hakeem Nicks has 585 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 12.7 yards per reception. And tight end Martellus Bennett adds 527 and four touchdowns with a 12.2 yard per catch average.
That’s not even mentioning Domenik Hixon and his 14.6 yard per catch average.
“They’ve got the guys that can stretch the field,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “They won’t kill us with intermediate routes. Those long balls and jump balls, if they can come down with those, it’ll be a long day for us.”
Passing is the Giants’ strength while covering that phase of the game isn’t for the Saints. New York puts up 254.8 yards passing per game. New Orleans, meanwhile, allows 286.7 yards through the air, third-worst in the NFL.
And while the Giants can rush the ball (114.6 ypg), it’ll be New Orleans’ ability to slow down Manning and the receivers that will give them a chance.
Easier said than done, Jenkins said.
“He looks antsy in the pocket but everything he has thrown is on the mark,” Jenkins said. “It’s in traffic and it’s still accurate. His receivers do a great job of catching the ball in traffic. That’s sometimes frustrating as a defender. Usually sometimes if you have tight coverage, just your presence there will be disruptive.”
Part of that is on Manning putting the ball in the right place. Vitt knows that.
“Eli is playing at a high level,” Vitt said. “He is tough, he’s smart, he’s accurate.”