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Giants vs. Saints: Giants’ DC James Bettcher knows “great challenge” awaits

Giants will have their hands full with New Orleans offense

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Michael Thomas
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

“Great challenge this week.”

That is how New York Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher on Thursday described facing quarterback Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints are second in the league in scoring at 34.7 points per game. Brees is completing 80.6 percent of his passes, has set the league record for career completions and is 418 yards from passing Peyton Manning to become all-time leader in career passing yards.

Bettcher said that while Brees has done so far this season is a “rare and special thing” in the NFL.

“Really an offense that collectively has been one of the top five offenses for a while. They’ve [Brees and coach Sean Payton] been together for over a decade, they’ve called a lot of plays, run a lot of plays together. You can see that.”

“It going to be a great challenge.”

Like the Giants have the duo of Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr., the Saints have the outstanding running back-wide receiver combination of Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. Bettcher was asked about controlling those two players.

Alvin Kamara

The running back exploded on the scene for the Saints last season after being selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He had 1,554 yards from scrimmage (728 rushing, 826 receiving). He scored 13 touchdowns.

This season, Kamara has 141 rushing yards and 289 receiving yards that puts him on pace for 2,293 yards from scrimmage. Kamara’s 30 receptions leads NFL running backs.

Bettcher called Kamara a “really special player” and said “They’re gonna find way to target him and get him touches.”

The defensive coordinator said there is no specific way to match up against Kamara, who does more of his damage as a receiver than runner.

“At the end of the day we have to play fundamentally sound football,” he said. “There‘s no perfect call to get one guy on him every snap of the game.”

Michael Thomas

The third-year wide receiver has 38 receptions this season in 40 targets from Brees, an astounding 95 percent catch rate. Thomas caught 104 passes for 1,245 yards last season, and has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons.

The Saints move the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Thomas around, often in the slot and sometimes outside to create matchup issues. The Saints have, in face, lined Thomas up in the slot 22.8 percent of the time this season.

Thomas is another really talented receiver on the perimeter. Really strong hands at the point,” Bettcher said.

“They’re going to move him, put him all over the field. There’s special plays that are designed to get him touches, just like Kamara. Might be in the slot, it might be the X in the back side of 3x1 a few times as the Z.

“Anywhere they put him you’ve gotta be aware they put him you’ve gotta be aware he’s a focal point.”

Eli Apple appears unlikely to play Sunday. He missed last week’s game vs. the Houston Texans with a groin injury and has yet to practice this week. The Giants could have Janoris Jenkins shadow Thomas.

Linebacker Olivier Vernon has practiced twice this week and might be healthy enough to make his debut on Sunday as he recovers from a high ankle sprain.

“You’re talking about a very special player playing on the edge,” Bettcher said. “We’d love to have him and when we do get him back whether that’s this week or in the future we’ll be excited to have him back.”