This won’t just be a different opponent for Eli Apple. At times it might feel like a different sport.
A week after facing the Cowboys, a run-first mentality and a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start, the Giants’ first-round pick will be on the field against a future Hall of Fame quarterback, one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league over the past decade and a team that undoubtedly will be looking to test him in the secondary.
“It definitely changes,” Apple said Thursday. “You’re going to have to play the pass a little bit more and you know what to expect a little bit more. The Cowboys were balanced and now you’re going against a team that, they can run the ball, but they have the great quarterback in Drew Brees who they trust. I expect them definitely to try to test us.”
Us? Or mostly him?
“Everybody,” he said. “They’ll test everybody . . . Everybody is going to get their targets, we all know that. We all want to be prepared. I know as an individual I’m going to prepare myself as much as possible for anything that comes my way.”
It didn’t seem that way against the Cowboys. At least not at first. Apple’s debut was far from perfect, both in coverage and when it came to tackling.
“I thought he got off slow, it took him a little while,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “But then as the game got going, he did really well. I think he’s going to be a good football player and we need him, but it was a slow start for him.”
Apple admitted as much.
“Naturally sometimes that’s how it is throughout the game, you get a flow,” he said. “You just see how things are going and how they’re trying to attack you and you can make adjustments.”
Now he’ll have to adjust to how he thinks he’ll be attacked.
“I just know that every week you have to make the necessary improvements,” he said. “You really have to study yourself because the other guys are trying to study you. I’m really just trying to perfect my game any way I can all over with my technique and looking for things to get better at in the next game.”
Apple said what makes Brees so dangerous is his ability to manipulate defenses. He can use his eyes to force defenders in one direction, then throw it into a very small open space left behind. Apple somehow will have to counter all of that experience Brees has over him, even while playing with three safeties who have played a combined total of 18 games on defense in their careers.
“You stick to the game plan, listen to your coach, play tight coverage, try to disrupt the receivers’ timing — that’s all you can do,” he said. “You have to trust your technique and your teammates and play confident, man. As a defense, that’s the mindset that you have to have on the field that you can dominate, so that’s what we want to do.”
Dominate? Can Apple dominate Brees?
“If I do my technique and fundamentals,” he said flatly, “I’m confident in my abilities.”