Why Hakeem Nicks Is the Key to Eli Manning Playing Well

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Why Hakeem Nicks Is the Key to Eli Manning Playing Well
Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

Victor Cruz may own the highlight reel, but Hakeem Nicks is the receiver that keeps Eli Manning and the New York Giants' offense ticking.

Nicks, despite swelling in his oft-injured knee, ran up big numbers on the Cincinnati Bengals in a 31-13 loss.

If the Giants are going to right this ship, it will be with a healthy Nicks on the field.

It is Nicks who Eli Manning turns to when he needs the drive-saving play, even if it is Cruz who he goes to for the game-changer.

And Nicks' presence on the field—even when he is not being targeted 10 or more times a game—is what turns an unconventional slot receiver like Cruz into the deep threat he has become.

The Giants scored plenty of points in Nicks' absence this season, averaging 35 points in wins over Carolina and Cleveland.

But, then again, that's Carolina and Cleveland, not exactly a one-two punch of defensive powerhouses.

After Sunday's road loss in Cincy, the Giants now face the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens, all Super Bowl contenders.

Through 10 games, Nicks has only 290 yards and one touchdown, and his lackluster performance so far is a big part of why Eli Manning has struggled, throwing three interceptions for every four touchdowns thus far in the season.

Manning's season yardage is comparable to last year's, as he's thrown for 2,485 yards in nine games and his accuracy remains solid despite him throwing for barely 50 percent in his last two games.

Where he's struggled is in keeping drives alive and getting the Giants out of trouble.

Case in point: Last week's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Trailing by 10 entering the fourth quarter Pittsburgh ran off 14 unanswered points to lead 24-20.

No worries, New York fans thought, there's four minutes left in the game and we have Eli Manning behind center.

Alas, there would be no magic for Manning last week, as the Steelers' defense wrapped up Cruz on two passes and Nicks—his knee ailing at the time—was a non-factor over the final series.

The Giants are now 0-2 in November, historically their worst month under Manning's leadership.

Fortunately for Manning and New York, the football gods were kind this season and they only play three games in November.

Hopefully for the Giants, Nicks and Manning can reconnect at home against Green Bay with an extra week to rest and recuperate.

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