Break It Down: Finding the positives in Victor Cruz's tough night
Victor Cruz dropped 11 passes all of last season. He had three on Wednesday night, as part of the Giants' frustrating season-opening loss to the Cowboys. It's hardly time to panic, though -- either for Giants fans or fantasy owners of Cruz.
"I just lacked concentration," Cruz told The Star-Ledger, something New York coach Tom Coughlin said has been an issue "on occasion."
The positives from Wednesday's game are two-fold for Cruz, who is coming off a breakthrough 82-catch, 1,500-yard season: First off, he was open frequently; secondly, Eli Manning looked his direction constantly, targeting Cruz 11 times on the night -- more than any other Giants receiver.
So what went wrong? And what might provide some glimpses at better days to come? Let's break it down ...
This was the first of Cruz's three drops and it came on a 3rd-and-6 during New York's opening drive. Cruz lined up in the slot on the line of scrimmage with Hakeem Nicks next to him. Nicks ran a short curl route shy of the first-down marker, while Cruz broke to the middle of the field.
Without trying too hard to guess the exact nature of the play, Cruz appeared to be the No. 1 option for Manning.
He was plenty open, too, when Manning released his pass. The Cowboys dropped into a zone and Orlando Scandrick (who we'll see again later in this post) closed late.
Manning's pass was a touch behind Cruz, who may have been able to turn upfield around Scandrick if he had been hit in stride. But Cruz could not come up with the catch and the Giants had to punt.
And that play is kind of emblematic of our theme here: Cruz got open and Manning looked his direction on third down, but Cruz simply did not make the catch. Two of those three things still bode well for Cruz's numbers this season.
Just to prove that point ... Manning's next pass of the game also went in Cruz's direction -- a pretty clear indication that, unlike David Wilson being pulled from the game after fumbling, the Giants still had plenty of faith in Cruz.
This time around, Manning and Cruz hooked up for a 26-yard completion and it came on a play pretty clearly designed for Cruz. How do we know? Well, the Giants ran a blatant (and illegal) pick play at the line to break Cruz open up the sideline.
You can see Scandrick frantically trying to scramble back into position, but he never made it. Neither did safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who arrived in deep help coverage just in time to shove Cruz out of bounds for a 26-yard gain.
Manning kept searching for Cruz, especially in key situations.
Next up: a 3rd-and-goal from the Dallas 4. Cruz (yellow line below) was back in the slot, with tight end Martellus Bennett (orange line) to his left. Bennett flared out to the sideline, clearing some space up the middle, and Cruz headed for the goal line.
Manning briefly glanced to his left at Nicks, then came back and locked on to Cruz over the middle. He was open, too.
Or he would have been, if Scandrick had not reached out and grabbed him.
There was no flag on the play, which resulted in an incompletion and forced the Giants to settle for a field goal. Both Cruz and Manning lobbied with the officials after the play ended, and Giants fans were no doubt up in arms about the no-call following their team's loss.
Would a catch by Cruz there for a score have changed the outcome of the game? Maybe. Would it have changed the perception that Cruz had a terrible night? Probably.
But in the grand scheme of things, again, we're talking about what went right here. Cruz made a nice move against one-on-one coverage to free himself up for a potential TD pass and Manning fired it to him again in a big spot.
Just because this one didn't work out -- and several others fell through on Wednesday -- does not mean that Cruz is doomed to fail this year. A lot of the issues that arose against Dallas can be fixed. Take drop No. 2, for example (right).
What's the big problem here? Cruz took his eyes off the ball. That's it. He was wide open with space to run, had he made the catch. Give him two or three or 50 more times to complete that play and he probably does it 99 percent of the time.
One last play to put under the microscope before we wrap things up ...
With the Giants down two touchdowns in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, they put a drive together that resulted in a TD. But on the fifth play of that drive, a 2nd-and-10 from the Dallas 37, Manning and Cruz barely missed on a solid gain that might have sped up New York's scoring march.
Manning lobbed one up for Cruz, despite double coverage along the sideline. Cruz made a spectacular adjustment on the ball, turning Scandrick around to get position for the pass and shielding off Dallas' oncoming safety.
The problem, of course: Cruz dropped it.
Just as with the drop in the first quarter, drop in the second quarter and near-miss at the goal line, though, the play is there. And Manning shows the utmost faith in Cruz by giving him a chance to make a play despite tight coverage from multiple defenders.
Cruz still finished Wednesday night with six catches for 58 yards, despite all his struggles. Had he caught the ball like we know he can, he might have hit double-digit receptions and likely would have topped the century mark in yards. It was a disappointing outing, to be sure, both for Cruz and the Giants. But if Cruz and Manning do exactly what they did on Wednesday -- and Cruz adds a touch more focus -- then there's no reason to believe Cruz will suffer a huge drop-off in numbers in 2012.