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Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Broncos-Giants matchup of the day

By Jeff Legwold

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz and Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris will not spend the whole afternoon across from each other Sunday. But some key longer down-and-distance situations will offer what is potentially one of the best battles anywhere on the field.

While Cruz often lines up wide to the offensive left when the Giants are in a two-receiver set, when he moves into the slot he goes from being a Pro Bowl hopeful on the outside to an elite player in the slot. And when he’s in the slot Cruz becomes the bulk of Harris’ things-to-do list.

At 6-feet, 204 pounds Cruz is physically more powerful than some of the league’s smaller guys in the slot. And while his speed -- 4.54 in the 40-yard dash before the 2010 draft when he signed with New York as an undrafted rookie -- isn’t among the league’s best, he has that innate ability to get himself free in crowded spaces.

His cuts are sharp, his routes precise and he has what Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey says is the most important thing for a quality slot receiver: “those guys know the offense like a quarterback, they know the coverages and they know where the holes are and the quarterbacks trust them to be in the exact right place every time because things happen fast and the quarterbacks don’t throw the ball in there unless they are sure about the guy.’’

Harris, too, has the mentality and fast-twitch ability to work inside. He’s aggressive and rarely gives receivers a free release into the pattern, a key in the slot. He reacts to the ball well and knows how to jostle for position without drawing a flag.

Despite always playing in the crowd in the slot when the Broncos face a three-wide look, with all the hand-fighting and jockeying for position that comes with it, Harris drew just one pass interference flag in all of 2012 -- his only penalty of the season -- and did not draw a flag in the season opener last week against the Ravens.