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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Glauber: This is no Saintly task for Giants' defense

New York Giants defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (78)

New York Giants defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (78) looks on in a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Saturday, Aug 22, 2015. Credit: Steven Ryan

It was an emotion-filled week for the Giants, starting with a victory -- albeit not a very convincing one -- against the Cowboys last Sunday to retake the NFC East lead. It continued with the dramatic return of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and the realization that he actually might be ready to play as soon as next week in Tampa.

Now for the potentially sobering news.

Before the Giants get to that game against the Buccaneers and rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, they have to face the Saints, a team they haven't beaten in New Orleans since 1993 when Dan Reeves was coach.

The Superdome has been the scene of some of the Giants' worst losses in recent years, and with the Saints having emerged from an 0-3 start with three wins in their last four games, this could get ugly before Pierre-Paul makes it all the way back from a July 4 fireworks accident.

In fact, if the script plays out the way it has in the past, Drew Brees will have a field day against a Giants defense that has been woefully inadequate in rushing the passer.

The Giants have only nine sacks in their first seven games, next-to-last in the entire NFL; the Falcons are dead last with eight. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has done a mostly masterful job in surviving this chronic weakness, but if the Giants can't generate some pressure on Brees, he'll simply stand in the pocket and play pitch-and-catch with his receivers all afternoon.

Brees isn't quite the quarterback he was in his prime, possibly because of a bruised rotator cuff he suffered earlier this season. But he's still capable of getting on a roll and taking apart a defense with surgeon-like precision. The Giants' best hope might be turnovers, which they've been good at creating most of the season. But this is not Matt Cassel we're talking about, so you almost certainly won't see the Giants finish with three interceptions, as they did last week.

The Giants insist they won't be thinking of their shortcomings, even if their defensive weaknesses are obvious.

"I don't believe in having low goals. No one having low goals ever achieved anything," defensive end Robert Ayers said. "I expect this [defensive] unit to come out and get a lot of pressure. I expect to be physical and play the run. We just have to keep working and keep getting better each week and keep doing our thing, keep preparing and keep trying to function at a high level and keep trying to execute the plays we have."

Spagnuolo might be doing the best job of any defensive coordinator in the NFL, given the limitations of his defense. But if the Saints can protect Brees consistently, this one might get away from him.

And don't blame Spagnuolo if he's a bit skittish playing in the Superdome. After all, he spent a year as the Saints' defensive coordinator in 2012, presiding over one of the worst defenses in NFL history.

It was the year that Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended over his role in the Bountygate scandal, and the Saints were a mess all season. It was particularly bad on defense, as Spagnuolo's unit gave up 7,042 yards, the most in a single season. The Saints finished 7-9 and gave up 454 points.

"You learn more in adversity than you do sometimes when it goes real well," said Spagnuolo, who helped the Giants win the Super Bowl after the 2007 season with some of his most brilliant work as a coach. "There are things I pulled away from that I think have been helpful."

Anything specific?

"No, not really," Spagnuolo said.

Just having been through the trials that season helped him, though. He wound up going to Baltimore as a defensive assistant, and in his first trip back to the Superdome last year, the Ravens beat the Saints, 34-27.

The coach remains confident in his unit, even if it is undermanned. Ayers' return last week certainly helped, but Spagnuolo sure could use Pierre-Paul in this one. Unfortunately for the Giants, that will have to wait for at least another week, even though Pierre-Paul looked better than anyone could have imagined during his limited time in practice.

"It's a challenging place to play," Spagnuolo said of the Superdome. "They're a good football team. Fans make it tough because they're into it. I've always thought you embrace that and go down and enjoy it, that's what makes the NFL so exciting. But it is one of those places that's tough to win."

A win over the Saints would put an exclamation point on an already positive week, as Pierre-Paul's return reinvigorated a locker room that welcomed him back after his difficult rehabilitation. Spagnuolo will do everything in his power to make it happen, even if the odds are against it.


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