The nuts and bolts

GIANTS at SAINTS

Noon Sunday, Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Radio: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3; WDGL-FM, 98.1; KMDL-FM, 97.3

TV: Fox

Favorite: Saints by 3

Over/under: 50

Top storyline: After recent strong stretch, defense must keep it going

The Saints defense appears to be serious.

Sure, there are issues with stopping the run, and those shouldn’t be minimized, but many of the other questions have been answered.

No pass rush? The Saints recorded nine sacks in the past two weeks while adding countless more pressures and hits.

Issues in coverage? Those have been minimized to the point where the question now should be how good this group can become once everyone is healthy.

This defense appears to be legit. That’s no small feat after spending last year being lambasted for a constant string of failures and disappointments.

It must feel good for these guys, right?

“I’d pump the breaks. It’s only been a couple games we’ve strong together,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “To be a dominant defense, you have to do it year in and year out. It’s nice but nothing special.”

That’s a fair way to look at things. The defense has been better — the whole team has been better — but it’s just two games. For this team to even be considered a good defense, there needs to be more evidence.

But they’re getting there. Another strong performance against the Giants would push the narrative forward.

If the Saints are who they were the past two weeks, this should be the kind of game where a solid performance is expected since the Giants offense ranks in the middle of the league.

There will be challenges. New York has a number of good receivers, but a good defense would be able to take care of business.

To get to the point where success can be expected, the Saints need to prove it again.

Know your opponent

Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr.

The LSU product and New Orleans native is one of the most talented young receivers in the NFL. But unless he blows up over the second half of the season, there’s little chance he matches his totals from last year, when he caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards over 12 games.

Beckham has 42 catches for 524 yards, but he shouldn’t be treated as a guy on a downward slope. He’ll give Delvin Breaux everything he can handle.

Giants QB Eli Manning

Eli Manning come home to New Orleans as the best quarterback in the family. While his brother Peyton has struggled through the early portion of the season with Denver, Eli has gotten off to a pretty decent start to the season.

He has completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 1,776 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. While he’d likely be happy with more touchdowns, those numbers aren’t bad.

Giants S Landon Collins

All the locals are coming back to town. And while Collins has gotten off to a good start, there’s no question that Saints coach Sean Payton will look for ways to test the rookie free safety.

If he isn’t up to the task, the Saints will quickly find out, and Collins will leave town with unfavorable memories of his homecoming. Collins already has 42 tackles and an interception. He should be settled in by now.

Four downs

1. Do it quick: One of the reasons the Saints had success the previous two weeks is that they got off to fast starts. While it’s important to start well every week, it’s even more important for the Saints because it limits the opponent’s ability to run the ball. And when your run defense is ineffective, limiting those opportunities is a key to success.

2. Get on Odell: No shocker here: New Orleans is going to need to have an answer for Odell Beckham Jr., who is one of the better young receivers in the NFL. The man who likely will be tasked with that job is Delvin Breaux. He should be up to the task despite falling on two T.Y. Hilton touchdowns last week against the Colts.

3. Personnel issues: It will be interesting to see whether New Orleans continues to use some of the wrinkles it introduced on offense last week. Against the Colts, the Saints operated primarily with two tight ends on the field, as opposed to the typical three receivers. Was that a change in philosophy or a one-game wrinkle? We’ll find out.

4. Time to burn: The past two games won by the Saints came against the Falcons and Colts. Those teams rank 32nd and 30th in sacks in the NFL. The Giants rank 31st. That means Drew Brees should have plenty of time to sit back and pick his spots against this New York defense. That could mean more shot plays downfield.

Injury report

SAINTS

OUT: LB David Hawthorne (hamstring), OT Andrus Peat

DOUBTFUL: LB Dannell Ellerbe (hip) QUESTIONABLE: CB Keenan Lewis (hip)

PROBABLE: CB Damian Swann (concusison), T Terron Armstead (knee), WR Marques Colston (not injury related), G Jahri Evans (not injury-related), DT Kevin Williams (not injury-related), G Mike McGlynn (not injury-related)

If Ellerbe is unable to play, it seems likely that Ramon Humber will have to start at weakside linebacker alongside Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaha.

Lewis is said to be a game-time decision. He said he’s starting to feel better and felt some of the burst coming back into his legs late in the week. If he’s unable to play, it’s likely that Delvin Breaux, Brandon Browner and Swann will get most of the snaps.

GIANTS

OUT: CB Prince Amukamara (pectoral), WR Victor Cruz (calf), DE Owa Odighizuwa (hamstring), LB J.T. Thomas (ankle)

QUESTIONABLE: LB Jon Beason (ankle)

PROBABLE: G Geoff Schwartz (ankle), WR Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring), LB Uani Unga (neck)

Predictions

Nick Underhill: Saints 24, Giants 21

We’ve been here before. We know it’s dangerous to drink the juice. The Saints teased us by making us believe time and again, only to disappoint. It’s probably dumb to believe again. I know all of these things. But I can’t deny what I’ve seen the past two weeks. The Saints look — at least recently — like a good football team. So I’m jumping back in and expecting the outcome to be different.

Joel A. Erickson: Saints 28, Giants 24

The key to this one is the turnover battle. New York’s defense has given up yards in bunches, but the Giants have been able to stay afloat by forcing the third-most turnovers in the NFL. If the Saints protect the ball — and New Orleans has done a solid job the past two games — the Saints seem better poised to win a straight-up matchup with a defense that seems to be getting better.

Scott Rabalais: Saints 26, Giants 21

One year ago, New Orleans won 28-10 at Carolina to get to 4-4 after a dismal 1-3 start. The Saints have that same opportunity Sunday. What happens from here I haven’t a clue, but I do know this is a Saints team that has improved in all phases. The biggest difference is turnovers: New Orleans is plus-5 in its past two games. Expect the opportunistic Saints to win another close one.