EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –Just four games ago, Mario Manningham was the Giants No.3 wide receiver. The third-year wideout feasted on opposing secondaries consumed with covering Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith.
How things have changed in such little time. As the Giants receivers have gone down one by one, Manningham has been thrust to the No. 1 role, playing alongside free agent pickups and undrafted free agents. The elusive receiver is now the receiver the defense’s must shut down.
And so far, Manningham has done admirably. Teammates and coaches raved this week about Manningham’s performance in the absence of Nicks and Smith, which will extend this week when both miss Sunday’s game vs. Washington.
In the three games as the No. 1 wideout, Manningham has caught 16 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s done a terrific job picking up the load, him and (tight end Kevin) Boss,” Smith said. “They’ve both done very well.”
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride praised Manningham’s explosiveness and how the team has been working with him to become more consistent. His dynamic playmaking ability lends to the Giants trying to get the ball to his hands and take advantage of his homerun potential.
“I think his explosivenss is one of the important reasons why we’re so high up in big plays as an offense,” Gilbride said. “I think guys feed off the energy, off the personality as well as off the big plays that he makes.”
GIANTS GOING TO THE BANK
The Giants have faced their fare share of great returnmen this season. Chicago’s Devin Hester. Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson. Dallas’ Dez Bryant. Seattle’s Leon Washington. This weekend, that trend continues as the Giants will have to try and contain Washington’s explosive rookie, Brandon Banks.
Banks, an undrafted free agent, is fourth in the NFC in return average for returners who have returned more than 10 kicks. He is averaging 27 yards per kickoff return and has a touchdown. He’s fifth among punt returners with more than 10 returns, averaging 11.3 yards.
“(He’s) running past everybody,” Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. “Going towards the endzone faster than I would like to comment on. They count on field position with him. They had one called back last week (against Minnesota) or they have the lead in the fourth quarter. He’s done a nice job.”
While Banks has been fantastic as a rookie, theGiants return coverage has been quite good this season, allowing just 18.3 yards per kickoff return and 6.3 yards per punt. After struggling early in the season, the Giants have improved as the season has gone on with the addition of strong defensive lineman like Jason Pierre-Paul and Dave Tollefson to the special teams unit.
Like he has done in the past against others, Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes said he can mix up the kicks on kickoffs.
“We’ve recognized how good he is, but I still think we’re going to kick the ball to him,” Tynes said. “We’re pretty good at what we do too. I think we’re top three in the NFL in covering kicks, so it will be a big challenge and a big part of the game. We’re going to have to do a really good job.”