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Giants' Okereke, McKinney key defense going into matchup against Packers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — When Jordan Love looks over at the New York Giants defense on Monday night, the Green Bay Packers quarterback is going to see the same two players on every play.

Just beyond the defensive line, Love will be face to face with inside linebacker and Giants leading tackler Bobby Okereke.

Either further downfield or sometimes adding an extra body closer to the line of scrimmage, will be safety Xavier McKinney, their second-leading tackler. The two are literally every-down players.

Heading into Week 14, four players have been on the field for every defensive down for their teams.

Okereke and McKinney of the Giants (4-8) account for half of them. The other two are Indianapolis Colts safety Julian Blackmon and Washington Commanders safety Kamren Curl.

“There's a lot accessory injuries that can you get, like a broken finger or a sprained ankle or a wrist or even a rib,” said Okereke, who has 113 tackles, four forced fumbles and two interceptions in 12 games.

"Unless it requires surgery or is a pretty severe health risk, I mean, the only thing that’s stopping you from playing is pain. We’re all tough guys. So a lot of guys are playing through some nicked-up injuries.”

Coming off a bye week, Okereke is feeling good. He played with a fractured rib against the Patriots before the bye and had eight tackles and an interception that set up a touchdown.

McKinney, who got off to a slow start this season, has had at least 10 tackles in the past four games.

McKinney, who has 86 tackles, wondered why being on the field every down was such a fuss.

"That’s what I’m supposed to do,” said the four-year veteran whose contract expires after this season.

When told he was in rare company, he scoffed.

“I’m not most guys. That’s the thing people have to understand about me,” he said. "That’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s not something I need a trophy for. I’m just trying to be here to help my team and be here to help us play well on defense. If in order to do that, I have to play every down, we have to go to overtime, whatever it is, I’ll be there.”

The Giants defense has played a major role in their two-game winning streak, getting eight takeaways.

Wink Martindale's unit will need another big performance to end the Packers' winning streak (6-6).

The Packers enter Week 14 in the final wild-card spot in the NFC with five games left in the regular season.

Green Bay is coming off a win over the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, and none of its remaining opponents has a record that is better than .500.

Love said the Packers, who are 16-0 in December since Matt LaFleur took over as coach in 2019, won't change their approach.

“We give everybody respect,” Love said. “We don’t doubt anybody or take a game off or anything like that. We give everybody respect and just take it one game at a time, and our mindset is just to focus and go win every week.”

After overcoming a 2-5 start, Love said no one needs to be reminded how far the team has come.

“We know exactly what position we’re in,” he said. “Every game’s like a playoff game for us. We know the mentality, we gotta win out. This team doesn’t need a reminder of that.”

LaFleur has first-hand experience going against Martindale when he was Tennessee's offensive coordinator in 2018. Martindale was the defensive coordinator with Baltimore and it blanked the Titans 21-0.

“He kicked the (heck) out of us when I was in Tennessee and he was in Baltimore,” LaFleur said. “That was a humbling day, but he’s a guy that he does a great job just putting people in position and he presents a lot of different challenges for an offense and I got a ton of respect for what he’s capable of doing and what he’s done over the course of his career, but I think their defense, they present a lot of problems.”

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Tom Canavan, The Associated Press