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Victor Cruz has been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this year. An undrafted player who signed with the Giants in 2010, Cruz was originally tabbed this season as the fourth wide receiver, behind Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon.
Over the course of the regular season, Cruz had 82 receptions, 1,536 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. He remained a big threat in the playoffs, including this past Sunday against the 49ers, catching 10 times for 142 yards.
By now, though, most teams—if not every team—in the NFL knows how much talent this young kid has. The Patriots should know, having played them earlier this season. They got a taste of what Cruz can do; though he didn't have a touchdown, he did catch six times for 91 yards.
Though the Patriots secondary is already pretty weak, there's no doubt in my mind that they will try to double-team Cruz in coverage to prevent him from being a threat once again.
So what's a guy like Eli Manning to do? Take advantage of the depth that he has at the wide receiver position, that's what.
Obviously, Hakeem Nicks, the team's No. 1 receiver will get a lot of looks in this one, but there's more on the depth chart than just him.
Mario Manningham, now the team's No. 3 receiver, can at times be a hidden gem. He has caught a touchdown pass in all three playoff games. Against Atlanta in the Wild Card Game, he had four receptions for 68 yards. On Sunday, he was only targeted once, but that one time resulted in a 17-yard TD in the fourth quarter that gave them the lead (until David Akers kicked a field goal).
Jake Ballard, one of the Giants tight ends, has also shown to be a surprise in his first full season. Originally known as a blocking tight end at Ohio State, Ballard had 38 receptions this year and just over 600 receiving yards. The Giants' other starting tight end, Bear Pascal, just caught his first touchdown pass this Sunday against the 49ers.
Cruz will still get plenty of looks, sure, but in order to truly capitalize against the Patriots D (particularly their secondary), Eli needs to spread the ball around and leave them confused over to whom he's going to throw.