Victor Cruz is one hell of a football player, but his biggest weakness is his habit of dropping passes. Even during a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2011, Pro Football Focus found that Cruz dropped 11 passes, ranking fifth in football.
This year, Cruz is already 27 percent of the way to that total after he dropped three balls in Wednesday night's loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
It's impossible to know what would have changed had Cruz secured those passes, but let's speculate anyway.
First quarter: Cowboys 0, Giants 0
3rd-and-5 from the Giants' 21-yard line
Cruz is in the slot, and it appears the Cowboys are playing zone, with Barry Church beginning to blitz.
That gives Cruz a clear gap in the zone to invade on his short post pattern.
There's the ball flying through Cruz's hands at the 30-yard line. As you can see, he would have been tackled immediately, but it would have been a first down and allowed the Giants to keep driving on their first possession of the year.
Steve Weatherford had a big punt, and the Cowboys didn't score on the ensuing possession, but the drop cost the Giants any chance of gaining early momentum.
In Cruz's defense, the pass was thrown a bit behind him. Regardless, that's a grab a starting receiver has to make, let alone a Pro Bowler.
Second quarter: Cowboys 7, Giants 3
1st-and-10 from the Giants' 30-yard line
The Giants have 54 seconds and all three timeouts to respond to the Cowboys' first touchdown of the game. With Dallas getting the ball to start the third quarter, this is a crucial series. And it starts with Cruz dropping a wide-open pass.
I've highlighted the ball in yellow, which simply slips through Cruz's hands as he looks upfield too early. He was either hearing footsteps or anticipating the potential for a big play. Orlando Scandrick (green) is seven yards off when Cruz drops the pass.
As you can see in this angle, Brandon Carr is also in the area, but he looks to be at least seven or eight yards back. This was a first down at the very least, and maybe even a big play if Cruz could have made a nice move or two.
But look where his head and eyes are directed when his hands are trying to secure the ball.
Look at all that space...
That gave the Cowboys defense the ability to pin the Giants' ears back, as they sacked Eli Manning on the ensuing play and thwarted any chance the Giants had of scoring before halftime. Dallas scored on the first drive of the second half, and the Giants never fully recovered.
Fourth quarter: Cowboys 24, Giants 10
2nd-and-10 from the Cowboys' 37-yard line
The Giants need two touchdowns, which means the quicker they score the first one, the better. Manning throws to Cruz in tight coverage, but he appears to have an edge on both cover guys.
At this point, there's 4:34 on the clock, and a catch would result in a first down at the 21-yard line.
At this moment, Cruz has the ball in his hands, but he has to come down with it.
It would appear that the contact from Gerald Sensabaugh and Orlando Scandrick broke up the completion, but as you can see here, Cruz again didn't have it securely in his grip.
He's actually dropping the ball before contact is even made. He's bracing for it. Again, hearing footsteps.
In Tom Coughlin's world, this is unacceptable.
The Giants would eventually score on this drive, but they didn't get back to the point of that drop until more than a minute had ticked off the clock and after they used a timeout. They never got the ball back. Had Cruz made this catch and had they continued on a similar path, there's a decent chance they would have had an opportunity to tie the game late.
It was a rough night for a lot of Giants.
Corey Webster, Michael Coe and Justin Tryon were beat on 12 of the 14 passes thrown their way (per PFF), with Webster and Tryon giving up perfect opposing passer ratings. Manning wasn't as sharp as usual (though he didn't make any major mistakes), and the offensive line couldn't generate any run-blocking, but that's the norm.
Nothing hurt the Giants as badly as poor cornerback play Wednesday night, but Cruz's three drops probably come in second place.
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