PITTSBURGH — The divorce of Victor Cruz and the Giants unofficially began when GM Jerry Reese drafted wide receiver Sterling Shepard out of Oklahoma in the second round of last spring’s draft.
Reese understandably and prudently had to plan for the possibility that the oft-injured Cruz might never return to the field. If Cruz never came back, Reese would have an immediate insurance plan in place. If Cruz got healthy, the Giants would be rich at receiver.
No one could have predicted, though, that Ben McAdoo and Eli Manning would squander the luxury of a healthy Cruz and flip their riches at receiver into an unresolvable burden; that McAdoo would never play Cruz at his best position, inside in the slot; that Cruz’s successful comeback would turn sour.
A fully-dressed Cruz stylishly fired out of the Giants’ Heinz Field locker room the second it opened to media on Sunday night, graciously agreeing to talk — as he always does — as he walked but was clearly frustrated with Manning not throwing a single pass his way.
“I’m going to talk to somebody,” Cruz said. “Somebody’s got to give me an answer as to why.”
Cruz followed up on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football Monday morning, saying he was “a little angry” after the loss. He stressed “I just want to go out there and contribute.” He said he intends to speak with McAdoo on Tuesday as the Giants (8-4) review film of their 24-14 defeat to the Steelers before turning their attention to Sunday night’s MetLife showdown against the Dallas Cowboys.
“We’ll see how it goes tomorrow when I step into work and have a conversation with Coach Mac, which I plan on doing. And we’ll take it from there. But I’m not angry. I’m not a disgruntled employee,” Cruz said, reversing his route and parroting a line of questioning from ex-NFL wideout Nate Burleson. “I’m not like screw this. I’m a team guy first, and I want to make sure that everybody’s interest is at heart.”
Cruz doesn’t have to tell anyone he’s a team-first guy, though. Everybody knows that.
He didn’t whine after his only two Week 5 targets from Manning in Green Bay were off-target, seemingly indicative of miscommunication between the two. He didn’t say anything negative, even though a couple days after Manning’s horrible performance, the quarterback hinted:
“We have some guys having to play receiver who haven’t in a while and are going through a learning curve and they are doing a lot of good things, it is just about getting on the same page.”
Cruz and tight end Larry Donnell were the only receivers that fit Manning’s description.
Cruz didn’t complain in Week 9 either, when coming out of the Giants’ bye week, McAdoo’s phase-out of Cruz officially began when he played undrafted free agent Roger Lewis Jr. ahead of Cruz before an ankle injury.
Cruz missed the next week against Cincinnati, but when he returned he saw just two targets against the Bears. Manning threw five passes Cruz’s way in Cleveland in Week 12, but the result was the same in both games: one catch.
Victor Cruz, who’s has been healthy – for the most part – this season, has been phased out of the Giants’ offense.
Cruz had only one catch in three straight games prior to Sunday’s donut in Pittsburgh, but they were all deep completions — one for 46 against the Eagles before his injury, one for 48 against the Bears, and one for 37 against the Browns. And Cruz didn’t complain, because he was chipping in.
“It’s just times where we may stall out or we may hit kinda a null moment within games and I want to help and I want to contribute and I want to be that person to uplift us to get us going,” Cruz said Monday on NFL Network. “Because I feel like, ya know, (ex-Giants receiver) Amani Toomer called me the party-starter a couple weeks ago, because every time I touch the ball and make a play, it seems like we get going. And I just want to be there for my time.”
Cruz is not without blame here, to be sure. He turned a deep route to the sideline in Cleveland, for example, misreading a play on which he had beaten the Browns defensive back, and Manning’s beautiful ball downfield fell incomplete to the grass.
But for every one of those mistakes, there is Manning in Sunday’s second half in Pittsburgh either not looking Cruz’s way or — on one second half play — seemingly looking at an open Cruz to the right sideline and turning left to throw elsewhere anyway.
Not to mention McAdoo played Lewis 29 snaps to Cruz’s 26 at Heinz Field. So it wasn’t just a lack of targets but playing time, too.
Who was it that caught the Giants’ game-winning touchdown pass in Dallas in Week 1 anyway? Cruz. Who was it that snagged a difficult 50-50 ball in the red zone to bail out Odell Beckham Jr. for a huge drop in their Week 2 win over the Saints? Cruz.
Fan reaction from the couch is that Cruz must not be open. That is incorrect. Sometimes he is, sometimes he isn’t, like everyone else. The ball on Sunday didn’t come his way regardless.
Let’s be honest: Manning is making too many mistakes, and this offense is too predictable and inconsistent. Shepard had no targets in Cleveland. Cruz saw no passes against the Steelers.
Manning’s interception to Lawrence Timmons in the red zone in the second quarter all but decided Sunday’s game. The coach and quarterback were talking early in the season about the problems that the Cover-2 base defense was giving them, for crying out loud. That was eye-opening in October and it is important to remember now.
Cruz’s base salary rises from this season’s renegotiated $2.4 million to $6.4 million and $7.4 million, respectively, in the final two years of his current deal, so it was already possible — or likely — that this could be his final go-around with Big Blue.
It’s just shocking how marginalized he has been in the game plan, smacking Cruz’s emotional, feel-good comeback story with a harsh dose of reality.
Tuesday he meets McAdoo. Maybe he’ll bring up the biggest surprise of all this season: Cruz, fully healthy, has yet to have opportunity to salsa at MetLife Stadium. One touchdown on the road. None at home. Sunday, at the very least, it’s time for the Giants to change that.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News