Manning Becoming a Man

Eli Manning has as big a spotlight trained on him as any young quarterback to enter the NFL in a long time. He plays the most visible position, and plays in the media Mecca that is New York City.

He was the first pick in the 2004 draft, by the San Diego Chargers, and traded to New York for Phillip Rivers and three draft choices. If that wasn't enough, he also happens to be the younger brother of arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts.

While many young quarterbacks are allowed a lengthy period of adjustment and education when their careers begin, Manning was afforded no such luxury -- such is the price he pays for his lot in life. Manning was thrown into the fray early, and while he has shown flashes of the talent that made the Giants give up so much for him, he also has made his mistakes.

Now, the Giants' young signal caller is maturing from a young thrower into a polished quarterback.

"Eli, he's had some adversity this year against Philly and Seattle," Dallas linebacker Greg Ellis said. "What I saw, watching those games, was that he hung in there, he didn't go haywire. When things don't go well, that's how you see what you're made of. Eli has always had the size, the talent. Now he's getting that maturity.

"Even that long pass he threw to (Giants wide receiver Plaxico) Burress to win the game, he really got hit. But he hung in there."

Head coach Bill Parcells said the Giants aren't asking Manning to do anything different this season, but that his understanding of his assignments and the nuances of the game have allowed him to perform at a higher level this season.

"It looks like pretty much the same offense this year," Parcells said. "But he just knows it better. They'll have a couple of wrinkles in every game, so we have that to worry about, but they're basically doing the same things."

Rookie free safety Patrick Watkins hasn't played against Manning before, but he has watched last year's games between the Cowboys and Giants, and seen film of Manning's performance in the Giants' first five games this season, and Watkins clearly is impressed by what he has seen.

"He's a good quarterback, a real good quarterback," Watkins said. "I can't take nothing away from him. That's an extremely balanced team, and he runs that offense well."

If Manning steers the New York offense, Watkins said, running back Tiki Barber is the engine that makes the offense go.

"It's a high-scoring offense, and they have a great running back," Barber said. "(Barber) has great balance, and he can make the first guy miss, so we really have to tackle well, really wrap him up. He's fast and strong, but he's smart, too. He just makes plays."

Watkins and the Dallas defense also face a team with a slew of big targets to whom Manning can throw. Wide receivers Burress and Amani Toomer stand 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-3, respectively, while tight end Jeremy Shockey measures in at 6-5, 251 pounds.

At 6-5, Watkins is the tallest defensive back in the NFL, but shied away from suggesting his height would give the Cowboys an advantage over other teams defending the Giants' big pass catchers.

"The only team I've seen with guys that big is Jacksonville -- they've got some big guys, too," Watkins said. "So it won't be the first time I've seen guys this tall. Hopefully that will help."

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