- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- By now you have heard that New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has yet to catch a touchdown pass this year. But did you also realize that his fellow Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz hasn't caught one since Week 4 in Kansas City?
"They're going to put my salsa dance on the back of a milk carton pretty soon," Cruz said Wednesday.
Cruz caught three touchdown passes in the season-opening loss in Dallas -- a game in which he, Nicks and Rueben Randle each exceeded 100 receiving yards. That night, in spite of the loss and the six turnovers that brought it about, led the Giants to believe their passing game was in for another big year.
It has not been that.
Cruz has been fine -- 11th in the league with 58 catches and 12th with 824 yards. Even his four touchdown numbers don't look out of whack with the league leaders thanks to the three he had in Week 1. Randle has become the touchdown man, leading the team with six touchdown catches, but overall he remains an inconsistent, work-in-progress, second-year player who shows flashes of brilliance but hasn't yet matured to the point of full-blown trust. He has 29 catches for 460 yards, but he leads the team with an average of 15.9 yards per catch and 12 catches of 20 or more yards. He has not, however, reached 100 yards in a game since the opener.
And then there is Nicks, who has been and remains one of the great mysteries of this Giants season. Playing out the final year of his contract, Nicks has lacked both explosiveness and consistency. He was held without a catch in the Week 3 loss in Carolina. Two weeks later, he caught nine passes for 142 yards against the Eagles, but that's the only time he's had as many as 85 yards in a game since Dallas. Seemingly fearful of injuring himself and jeopardizing his chances at a big contract, he looks tentative and awkward to an extent that he never did during his first four seasons, and he sat out practice Wednesday with what the team said was a groin injury.
"I'm sure he's frustrated, absolutely," Cruz said. "Especially for a guy who's had seasons with six, seven, eight touchdowns. But I think he understands it's for the betterment of the team. He likes to put the team first, and I respect him a ton for that."
There's a lot of evidence to support Cruz's description of his friend and teammate, but Nicks' level of performance this year has not benefited the team. Combined with (and to some extent responsible for) the erratic year quarterback Eli Manning is having, Nicks' struggles will need to be overcome if the Giants' offense is to reach anything resembling its potential over the final six weeks of this season.
"I think he's got some very big games coming," Randle said of Nicks. "I know how hard he works and how much it means to him. I think he'll be out there Sunday and I believe he'll play great for us."
The Giants have been saying all year they believe that about Nicks and Manning and their passing game in general. Sunday's victory over the Packers was Manning's best game since the opener in Dallas and offered some reason for optimism. The fact that this week's game is against the team with the worst pass defense in the league -- and the team against which the Giants' passing game had its best game of the year -- offers more.
"Because of the way our passing game is and because we know how good it can be, we talk about it every now and then," Cruz said. "Any given week, it could be any one of us with the big game. And we're definitely going to need all hands on deck to be successful this week."