It's come to this.

The Giants' offensive line is so banged up and depleted, relying on the last rungs of the depth chart, that Tom Coughlin had to ask Eli Manning if he was comfortable enough to play behind it Sunday against one of the league's most ferocious defensive fronts.

"As a matter of fact, we've talked about this,'' Coughlin said. "He wants to play and he's looking forward to playing and competing and having a better game. I wouldn't expect anything different.''

Nor should he expect anything different on the field if the Giants (5-9) face the likes of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley with their patchwork protection. Manning already has been sacked a career-high 36 times this season, and last week against the Seahawks he had to cower and curl up to avoid injury on the third snap of the game.

Protection has been an issue all season, as have injuries to the line. Both current starting guards -- David Diehl and James Brewer -- missed practice Wednesday, and those guys were already backups to previously injured starters. That left Dallas Reynolds and Brandon Mosley taking reps on either side of Kevin Boothe, who had to slide to center several weeks ago when the Giants lost backup Jim Cordle for the season after putting projected starter David Baas on IR.

Forget about time to pass the football. Can that configuration keep Manning alive?

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"I think our guys, they'll be ready,'' Manning said. "They'll compete. Hopefully, we get some guys back, but whoever is in there we'll handle, we'll have a good plan and have all the faith in the world they'll do a good job.''

That may require some adaptation, though.

"We're not going to put a new guy playing one-on-one on Suh all day and take seven-step drops and pump and go this way and that way,'' Manning said. "You've got to be smart about it in a sense, but you've still got to run our offense, and we'll make the best of it.''

Boothe said Manning can trust the group that practiced Wednesday, but stressed that it was still early in the week. That leaves time for one if not both Diehl and Brewer to return. Diehl said the possibility of having third- and fourth-stringers in there at Detroit is driving him to return.

"You want to be out there protecting your guys and fighting with your teammates,'' said Diehl, who suffered a knee injury in Sunday's game. "Yeah, it definitely plays in your mind.''

Manning downplayed his conversation with Coughlin as less than a chat.

"It never came up as a question whether I wanted to play or not, and I never thought about it any other way but going out there and playing,'' Manning said. "I want to compete. I want to make improvements and try to run this offense more efficiently and go out there and try to do the best I can and try to get a win.''

Reynolds was a starter for the Eagles last year but has been a deep reserve player for the Giants this season. He said he would have been shocked if Manning had begged out just because he was playing.

"Eli is a competitor and he wants to play,'' Reynolds said. "That goes to show what kind of player he is.''

The trick will be getting him to be the same kind of player after the game.