New York Giants: 3 Reasons Victor Cruz Has Become Eli Manning's Go-to WR
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With that, he has transformed himself into Eli Manning's most reliable target throughout the course of this season. The absence of Hakeem Nicks for the last three games has forced Eli to rely on Cruz to take on the No. 1 receiver role, and the Giants' passing attack has not missed a beat.
The Giants have averaged 285 yards through the air without Hakeem Nicks in the lineup. Although that's a far cry from the 510 yards Big Blue put up with Nicks on the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Giants' offense has not held the team back from winning any games.
Victor Cruz has played a major role in holding down the fort in Nicks' absence.
Cruz has four touchdowns in the last three games as the Giants have gone 2-1 throughout that time. It's unknown whether Nicks will return to the gridiron this Sunday in San Francisco. Regardless, Cruz will remain Manning's top target for the remainder of the season.
Let's take a look at three reasons why Cruz will see the most passes from Eli for the remainder of 2012.
Hakeem Nicks Is Injury Prone
New York Giants wideout Hakeem Nicks.
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Hakeem Nicks is currently dealing with swelling in his right knee, along with an ankle issue that has caused him to miss the Giants' last three contests.
This isn't the first instance in which Nicks has missed significant time due to injury.
The Giants' 2009 first-round draft pick has missed eight games over the past four seasons, which has many wondering about his long-term durability. It's impossible to be an offense's top target if you can't stay on the field with any consistency.
Victor Cruz has shown his ability to play without Nicks on the field, which has allowed the offense to stay afloat over the last three games.
Without Nicks in the lineup, teams normally drape a safety over the top of Cruz and limit his big-play ability. With Nicks lined up opposite Cruz, this becomes nearly impossible to accomplish without creating a mismatch with Nicks on the outside.
In short, the Giants' superstar wide receiving tandem open up the field and improve the efficiency of the passing attack just by stepping onto the gridiron.
While Hakeem Nicks is a vital aspect of what the Giants do offensively, he is not on the field enough to be called Eli Manning's top target. Victor Cruz has played without Nicks before and has carried the Giants offense on his back.
New York Giants wideout Victor Cruz with the ball Week 5 against the Cleveland Browns.
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Victor Cruz is not a better player than a healthy Hakeem Nicks is.
When healthy, Nicks is the Giants' clear-cut No.1 wide receiver. His ability to play against physical press coverage on the outside is invaluable to the Giants' offense. Defenses know this, so that's why most teams match their best cornerback on Hakeem Nicks when he's on the field.
When that happens, it inevitably creates a mismatch wherever Victor Cruz lines up.
Cruz's speed, along with his precise route running ability, make him nearly impossible to cover with a No. 2 cornerback. He gets himself open down the field and Eli finds him with consistency.
Big Blue's offense is predicated upon matchups and how a defense lines up at the line of scrimmage.
The Giants get a lot of big plays, not only by teams paying more attention to Nicks than they do Cruz, but also by opponents cheating on routes and trying to anticipate what play the team is going to run. Cruz does not necessarily have to be the best wide receiver on the Giants to be Eli's top target, he just has to have the best matchup on the field.
Victor Cruz's 99yard touchdown against the Jets.
Victor Cruz has six touchdown catches of over 68-yards throughout his short career.
Not only does he possess breakaway speed, but Cruz also knows how to find the soft spot of a defense. As he lines up in the slot, he normally finds himself open over the middle of the field.
When he catches the ball, he understands how to pick up yards after the catch by knowing the coverage and where defenders have lined up.
The Giants live and die by the passing attack, and Victor Cruz's big-play ability is invaluable to a team that has a relatively unbalanced offense. His ability to stretch a defense by forcing them to respect his speed allows the Giants to occasionally create a consistent rushing attack, as well.
All things considered, Cruz has been the Giants' main target through the air for the better part of the last two seasons.
Cruz broke Amani Toomer's franchise receiving record a year ago with 1,536 receiving yards. His big-play ability forced the Giants to feed him the ball, and it has worked out in the team's favor more times than not.