First it was the offensive line. Now it’s Eli Manning’s go-to receiver Steve Smith.
About the only thing that stands between the 6-2 Giants and the playoffs, besides five division games beginning this week against 1-7 Dallas, is the injury bug. And now, it appears, Smith has fallen to it.
Smith is believed to have strained a pectoral muscle while reaching for a throw in practice Thursday. He was sent immediately for tests, and his status for Sunday is uncertain.
“He had trouble driving his arms after the injury so he couldn’t continue but I don’t have anything else to tell you until the tests,” Tom Coughlin said. “It was a ball in the middle where he extended.”
Going without Smith would leave Manning without one of the most accomplished third-down receivers in the league. Smith currently ranks 20th among third-down receivers with 11 receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns. But the stats belie his true ability to keep the chains moving.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride didn’t sound like he was counting on Smith for Sunday.
“It’s a huge loss but we’ll make do,” he said.
“People have said it’s hard to cover him one on one inside so people have committed other people, additional resources. That either opens up running opportunities for us or opens up passing opportunities for other people.”
If Smith doesn’t make it, Mario Manningham will likely become the team’s main possession target, since he has cleared up last year’s inability to negotiate the sidelines in key situations. But even Manningham doesn’t have the pass-catching consistency of a Smith.
“He’s the most polished receiver we have,” Gilbride said. “He’s a guy who has really earned the respect of the defense to such a point that so many of the things they do are designed to stop him. That’s what has helped open up opportunities elsewhere."