DENVER | Aqib Talib is bummed out, although not nearly as much as Eli Manning.
Like so many football fans, the star Denver Broncos cornerback was eager for his marquee matchup with Odell Beckham Jr. before the Giants star receiver broke his left ankle against the Chargers last week.
“I love going against the best, and just to see him go out like that is just ugly,” Talib said. “I don’t even like to think about it. I definitely was looking forward to the matchup. Maybe next year.”
The Giants (0-5) stagger into Denver (3-1) a team in turmoil.
They lost four wide receivers last weekend, and three of them, Beckham, Brandon Marshall (ankle) and Dwayne Harris (foot), underwent season-ending surgery during a tumultuous week in which the feud between Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Ben McAdoo boiled over.
The Giants’ indefinite suspension of the veteran cornerback forced them to juggle their defense in addition to their offense. It raises the possibility the second-year coach is losing his locker room along with all those close games.
The tension was evident in McAdoo’s voice when he was asked during a conference call with Denver media “how’s Eli hanging in there with your 0-5 start?”
“Which Eli?” he replied, as if there is great interest in what second-year cornerback Eli Apple thinks of the situation.
Not Apple, Manning.
“Eli Manning? Eli, he’s steady as steady can be,” McAdoo said. “He doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t waver. He’s a good of a preparer as any player or coach as I’ve been around. He’s dialed in each and every week. He never blinks.”
Manning spent the week getting Tavarres King, Travis Rudolph and Ed Eagan up to speed.
“The good thing is most of them were here during training camp,” Manning said. “When you start getting brand new guys who are new to the system, that’s when it’s tough.”
Manning will likely lean more on running backs Paul Perkins and Shane Vereen anyway, along with rookie tight end Evan Engram, who leads the team in receptions.
Here are some other subplots to the prime-time matchup that looks so much like a mismatch:
SECONDARY ISSUES: DRC’s suspension means the defense is dealing with plenty of changes, too. The 31-year-old started the last two games and he plays the slot on passing downs. Apple and Janoris Jenkins will start, and expect Ross Cockrell to move into the slot. Michael Hunter, inactive the last two games, probably will play. If not, the Giants promoted Donte Deayon from the practice squad Thursday. New York has intercepted one pass all season. Safety Darian Thompson had it last week.
OVERLOOKING UNDERDOGS: The Broncos were also prohibitive favorites in Week 3 when they lost at Buffalo, so Von Miller said there’s no chance they take the winless Giants lightly.
“They still have Eli Manning,” Miller said. “… Eli can bust the game open at any given time.”
So can Miller, who insisted he’s not exactly salivating over the prospect of facing struggling left tackle Ereck Flowers.
“No, I lick my chops every week,” Miller said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. That’s my job. It doesn’t matter who they line up out there, I’m coming with it.”
FOURTH-QUARTER FOLLIES: The Giants’ defense carried the team to an 11-5 record and the playoffs last season. This year, the unit has failed at the worst time. The last three losses came after the defense failed to hold fourth-quarter leads.
The run D, among the best a year ago, is giving up an average of 139 yards, 29th in the league. Third downs have hurt. Opponents are converting at better than 42 percent, including 12 of 34 when the situation is third-and-6 or more yards.
WIDE RECEIVER PURGATORY: Emmanuel Sanders called Denver “wide receiver heaven” after Mike McCoy returned this year for a second stint as the Broncos’ offensive architect. It hasn’t exactly been nirvana for Sanders and fellow star Demaryius Thomas so far.
They’ve combined for just 38 catches and two TDs, not the kind of production expected from a pair of receivers pulling in a combined $15.25 million this season.
Sanders and Thomas aren’t complaining and their coach isn’t, either.
“We’re 3-1 and I’m not concerned about the numbers,” Vance Joseph said. “If we go 4-1 on Sunday and we throw it for a ton or we run it for a ton, that doesn’t matter. We’re concerned about collective results, and that’s winning together.”