Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
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METAIRIE, La. ― Quietly, Eli Manning is having a standout year quarterbacking in the NFL.
The New Orleans native is sixth in the NFL with a 94.7 quarterback rating, fourth in average gain per pass and sixth in touchdowns.
And he has his New York Giants, heading into Monday night’s game against the Saints, in position to fight for a playoff spot in the final six games of the season.
But while everyone is talking about Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and New Orleans’ Drew Brees, the Saints have their focus on Manning.
He isn’t flying under their radar.
“He’s very much in tune with what they’re wanting to do,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “When you study Eli, you see each year that progress. He’s a very good athlete.”
Manning has thrown for 2,952 yards with 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
He’s at his best, though, when games are nearing an end.
Manning is the NFL’s top passer in the fourth-quarter with a 120.5 rating, tossing 10 of his 18 touchdowns in the final 15 minutes of games and more than a third of his yards in the same quarter.
And when the pressure is on, when the Giants needs a first down, Manning has been good, too. He’s fourth in the NFL on third down with a 106.4 rating.
“He’s definitely one of the elite quarterbacks in the league,” Saints linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. “You expect Eli to play well. You expect to be accurate and have a strong arm. Those kind of things are a given to a Manning around here.”
Yet, the Saints have experience in shutting Manning down in the Payton era.
In New Orleans’ 48-27 shellacking of the Giants in 2009, the Saints held Manning to 14 of 31 passing for 178 yards with a touchdown and interception and a 61.0 passer rating.
The Saints were even better in 2006, holding Manning to 74 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 9 of 25 passing for a 41.2 quarterback rating in a 30-7 New Orleans win.
Still, New Orleans’ defense is wary of what Manning can do and is doing this season.
“What we need to try to do is minimize his shots, limit those explosive plays and do as well as we can by keeping them on the line of scrimmage,” Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said.
Added free safety Malcolm Jenkins, “I think he’s doing a better job of just taking care of the football. He’s not really throwing as many interceptions as he did last year. He’s going through his progressions. He’s doing a better job stepping up in the pocket and making some throws. He’s getting it to his tight ends.
“He’s not throwing it through tight coverage. He’s going through his progressions and getting it to the open guy and making smart decisions.”