NFL Nation: Victor Cruz

Victor Cruz can't pinpoint one particular moment when the New York Giants' season turned around.

Donnell
 But he can pinpoint one particular player -- and it's not him, nor is it Eli Manning or any of the Giants' other high-salaried stars.

"I think when Larry Donnell started to come to fruition, and catch the ball well and make some plays for us, I think that’s when things kind of shifted," Cruz said Friday on a conference call with reporters. "It was definitely something that we needed to happen -- someone to step up and make some big plays, and Larry’s done that for us."

Truth be told, Donnell has delivered all season long -- he had five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown in the Giants' season-opening loss to the Detroit Lions, and seven for 81 in their Week 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

But Donnell took things to another level Thursday night against the Washington Redskins, with three touchdown grabs -- the first Giants tight end to accomplish that feat in a single game since Joe Walton in 1962, according to Elias Sports.

Not bad for an undrafted free agent out of Grambling State, who had three career catches prior to this season.

A quarter of the way through 2014, Donnell has 25 receptions for 236 yards and four touchdowns. At that pace, he would finish the year with 100 catches for 944 yards and 16 scores.

To put that in perspective, last season the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham led all NFL tight ends with 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 scores -- rather similar numbers.

Donnell still has a long way to go, but Cruz said he isn't surprised by the success his teammate is having.

"In practice each and every day, I see the types of plays that he makes. I knew that it was just a matter of him getting his opportunities and making the best of it," Cruz said. "The style of offense that we have, it definitely sets up well for an athletic tight end to do some positive things, and I think he’s filled that void for us."

The Giants hit the jackpot with Cruz, another undrafted free agent, a few years back. Perhaps they struck gold again with a late bloomer from Grambling?

Cruz has been an inspiration to underdogs on the Giants and around the league. Now the tables have turned, it seems.

"I’m inspired by him. It makes me play harder, it makes me want to get as many touchdowns as Larry, get as many catches," Cruz said. "He’s definitely inspiring me, and I know that he’s inspiring other teammates as well."

Now, who would have predicted that?
video

LANDOVER, Md. -- If someone tells you they saw Larry Donnell coming, they're lying.

Not even the New York Giants, as they wrapped up training camp late last month, thought they had a tight end on their roster who'd have 25 catches and four touchdowns in their first four games. Donnell is an ungainly, undrafted, 6-foot-6 low-talker with braces who got the starting tight end job because no one else took it from him and because Giants coaches wanted to reward his hard work on special teams.

But there he was, catching seven passes for 54 yards and three (three!) touchdowns in the Giants' 45-14 victory over the Washington Redskins on Thursday night at FedEx Field. Donnell and the Giants (2-2) have figured out a way to use his height advantage with great success on third downs and in the end zone. And the team's reconfigured offensive coaching staff is showing it is not afraid to keep doing the same thing over and over again -- as long as it works.

[+] EnlargeLarry Donnell
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyTight end Larry Donnell has burst on the scene, much like the Giants' resurgent offense.
"When he gets in trouble," Donnell said of quarterback Eli Manning, "he knows he can throw it up there and it's my job to go up and get it. And he feels comfortable doing it."

Comfortable. That's a big word around the Giants these days. They just won two games in five days by the combined score of 75-31. The offense is undoubtedly clicking, with Manning operating efficiently in the no-huddle and keeping the passing game short and controlled. On Thursday, he was 20-for-27 on throws that were 10 yards or shorter, according to ESPN Stats & Information. All four of his touchdown throws came on such passes, and he has thrown nine such touchdowns so far this year -- more than he did from that distance all of last season.

"Yes, starting to like the offense," Manning said. "It's fun. Each week we have some new things and different plays that will work. I think everybody, offensive linemen, receivers, are starting to feel the tempo of things and see what we can do in this offense. We just have to keep working."

They've been helped the past couple of games by the defense's ability to get field-flipping turnovers. And it hasn't hurt that they've been able to get the first lead in each of their past two games, either.

"It gives you all the versatility of what you want to accomplish," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "You stay to the plan much better. You don't have to forgo some of the things you initially thought would be effective. It is a factor."

But the biggest thing that has happened here is Coughlin and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo have accurately assessed their personnel and tailored an offense to fit it. Donnell isn't a great inline blocker, and he's not going to do anything after the catch. But man, he is tall. And he can jump. And his routes are clean. So you bet they're going to throw it high to him on third down and at the goal line.

Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams aren't breakaway runners; in fact, Williams' 23-yard run in the second half was the Giants' first run of the year that covered more than 20 yards. But those guys can move in the hole and fight for extra yards, and they're putting the Giants in third-and-short somewhat reliably.

"We all understand what's being asked of us in this offense, which is that we've just got to be in the right place at the right time and catch the ball when it's thrown to us," wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "I think we're just clicking."

This offense will develop and likely grow more dynamic as time passes and the personnel evolves. Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. could join the party in the coming weeks, and if he does, the coaches have a plan for ways to use his speed to help them do more. In the meantime, the game plans are designed to put the people they have in the best possible position to succeed. And that's just plain, old-fashioned good coaching.

Eli Manning getting more comfortable

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
12:00
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- His older son was playing in the game of the day, a Super Bowl rematch out in Seattle. But for some reason Archie Manning came to New Jersey on Sunday to watch Eli Manning and the New York Giants beat the Houston Texans. It was a better day for Eli than it was for Peyton. Archie's younger son was a cool 21-for-28 for 234 yards, two touchdowns and (gasp!) no interceptions as he helped deliver the Giants' first victory of the season.

"Eli likes this offense," Archie Manning told our man Ian O'Connor on his way out of MetLife Stadium. "This is going to be good for him."

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Alex Goodlett/Getty ImagesEli Manning, a career 58.6 percent passer whose best was 62.9 percent in 2010, completed 75 percent Sunday and is up to 65 percent for the season.
This offense is one in which the free-agent running back, Rashad Jennings, ran for 176 yards on 34 carries Sunday. It's one in which Manning is holding the ball an average of .41 seconds less per dropback than he did in 2013, averaging less time per dropback before the throw than all but two quarterbacks in the league (Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger), according to Pro Football Focus. When it's on and clicking, it's a zippy, rhythm-driven, no-huddle assembly line of an offense designed to make its quarterback feel comfortable with the ball in his hands. And the past two weeks, Eli Manning has looked quite comfortable in his new offense.

"That is the way it's supposed to work," Manning said after Sunday's game. "We got the ball out quick. The receivers made catches. They had good runs after the catch. It was efficient. We mixed it up. I thought last week we made some steps to get better, and this week was even stronger."

Remember in training camp when Giants quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf said the goal was for Manning to complete 70 percent of his passes and we all had a great big chuckle about it? Well, after completing 66.7 percent of his passes in a Week 2 loss to Arizona, Manning completed 75 percent Sunday and is up to 65 percent for this young season. He's a career 58.6 percent passer whose career best was 62.9 percent in 2010, so this is significant progress. And though it's a small sample size and there are undoubtedly hiccups to come, the shorter, quicker-hitting passing game is obviously designed to help Manning's completion percentage improve.

The keys to making it work include Manning's post-snap footwork, which is timed to his receivers' routes depending on the play call (he has re-committed to this after struggling with it in the preseason), and his pre-snap reads, which have been sharp the past two weeks.

"He's seeing things really well before the snap," wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "We know exactly what's going on, exactly what to do out there. It's just a matter of us going out there and executing."

It helped that the Giants got the lead against Houston. It unquestionably helped that Houston's best offensive player, Arian Foster, was injured and didn't play in the game. There are games to come against tougher teams and tougher defenses that will be much tougher to beat, and the fact that the offense has clicked the past two weeks doesn't mean anything is fixed or the Giants are going to the Super Bowl. But it's worth noting, as we evaluate this season of change and transition for the Giants, that Manning might be adapting to the new offense better than it looked as though he might.

"He plays a very, very solid mental game, a very outstanding mental game," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "And he did that today."
videoEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It wasn't a fun week for New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz.

After last Sunday's drop-filled loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Cruz spent the week meeting with coach Tom Coughlin and fielding questions from reporters about why he wasn't catching the ball. By Friday night, Cruz was on Twitter, retweeting fan criticism of his hands, which is never a good look and a clear sign of frustration.

So Cruz's 61-yard catch-and-run in the waning moments of the first quarter was a load off his mind. And his 26-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter -- his first touchdown catch since Week 4 of last season -- was an absolute catharsis. When the game ended and the Giants had secured their first victory of the season, 30-17 against the Houston Texans, the dominant feeling in the locker room was clear.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsVictor Cruz had five catches for 107 yards, including a 61-yarder, in the Giants' win against Houston.
"This takes a lot of weight off," Cruz said. "Any guy who was here last year knows what that 0-6 felt like. Nobody wanted to feel like that again."

The Giants are 1-2, which is obviously not where they wanted to be at this point. But it's a whole lot better than 0-3, and they just need to flip the calendar back one year to remind themselves of that. With a short week and a Thursday game in Washington on the upcoming schedule, the Giants needed this game badly.

They needed to play well and in rhythm on offense, and they did. Quarterback Eli Manning was 21-for-28 for 234 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Rashad Jennings had a career-high 176 rushing yards on 34 carries.

They needed to force turnovers on defense, and they did, collecting their first three interceptions of the season and overcoming a slew of terrible early mistakes. They included a goal-line fumble, a bad snap that botched a field goal attempt and a fake punt the Texans converted in the first quarter. Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was not intercepted or sacked in the Texans' first two games, but Prince Amukamara, Antrel Rolle and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie each intercepted him Sunday and the Giants sacked him twice.

They needed to get a lead and hold it. They needed to win the time-of-possession battle. They needed their playmakers to make plays. Cruz obliged.

"This really helps us gain confidence that we're going in the right direction," Cruz said. "This is something to build on."

The Giants needed that more than anything. What we saw Sunday wasn't necessarily some season-turning event. This was clearly a flawed Texans team that was without its best offensive player, running back Arian Foster, and isn't comfortable with Fitzpatrick throwing the ball as a means of scoring points. The Giants remain a flawed team that will struggle with high-level competition, and Sunday didn't change that.

But after the way they played in the preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season, the Giants needed a performance that reminded them they are capable of playing well and winning. Sunday was that game. The offense clicked, especially in its up-tempo, no-huddle incarnation. The line held up against a tough pass rush. The defense pressured Fitzpatrick and made plays on the back end. Damontre Moore blocked a punt.

"Good win for our team. We needed it," Coughlin said. "A lot of guys played well. I'm looking forward to looking at this tape."

And isn't that a good feeling for the Giants to have for a change?

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
3:57
PM ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 30-17 victory over the Houston Texans at MetLife Stadium:

What it means: Relief for the Giants, who will not repeat last year's 0-6 start and have two games' worth of evidence that their new offense can work. A run-heavy game plan helped set up the play-action game and neutralize J.J. Watt and the Houston pass rush. Eli Manning was patient and accurate. The offensive line held up well in a tough-test game. The defensive line got pressure on jittery Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Giants made some early mistakes that reminded you of last week's self-inflicted meltdown, but they settled in and overcame them for their first victory of the year.

Stock Watch: Victor Cruz, UP. The veteran wide receiver and newly minted team captain had a rough week hearing about all of last week's drops. He made up for it with his first big game of the year -- and his first touchdown catch and end zone salsa dance since Week 4 of 2013. Cruz had five catches for 107 yards, including a 61-yarder and his 26-yard touchdown catch that started the scoring.

Flipping the field: Entering the game, the Giants were one of only three teams in the league without a takeaway. They got three interceptions in this game and also blocked a punt, delivering them the kind of field-position advantage for which coach Tom Coughlin had spent the week pleading. They made their own mistakes early, including a goal-line fumble, a bad snap on a field goal attempt and a holding penalty on a punt return. But their errors were fewer than those of their opponent, and that's the goal.

Game ball: RB Rashad Jennings. What a performance. Last week's goat after his no-contact fumble killed a potential game-tying drive, Jennings absolutely took over this game, rushing for a career-high 176 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries and playing a crucial role in blitz pickup on passing plays. The Giants signed Jennings to be a do-it-all starting running back, and this game showed he could be just that.

What's next: The Giants turn it around quickly and head to Washington for the Thursday night game this week.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If you were looking for some kind of complex explanation from New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings, you're going to be disappointed.

Jennings' noncontact fumble in the final five minutes of Sunday's 25-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals was about as simple as it gets.

[+] EnlargeTed Ginn
AP Photo/Bill KostrounTed Ginn's punt return for a touchdown was part of a series of miscues that saw the Giants' one-point lead turn into an eight-point deficit between touches on offense.
"I turned around. My foot didn't get set on the ground. I slipped as I took off running. My elbow hit the ground. The ball came out," Jennings said.

That is pretty much what everyone saw, and Jennings has no idea why such a thing would happen. The Giants were down by eight points and driving. This happened on the Arizona 15-yard line, with the goal line in sight and the game still attainable.

"We were moving the ball. No doubt we were going to score," Jennings said. "That one hurts."

That last part could be applied to the game itself. The Giants didn't play beautifully by any means, but their offense did look considerably more competent Sunday than it had six days earlier in the season-opening loss in Detroit. The defense had done a decent enough job bottling up Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton, who started in place of an injured Carson Palmer. The Giants got to the fourth quarter of their home opener with a 14-10 lead against a team playing its backup quarterback, which sure sounds like a recipe for a win.

But win they did not, because of a stunning run of fourth-quarter mistakes that took them out of the game.

Up 14-13 with 10:36 to go, Victor Cruz dropped a third-down pass from Eli Manning and the Giants punted. Arizona's Ted Ginn returned the punt 71 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, but Giants safety Quintin Demps fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Cardinals would get a field goal out of that gaffe.

"We've got a one-point lead, and the next time we touch the ball, we're down eight," Manning would say when it was over.

Tough to believe, but then Jennings' blunder made it even tougher to believe -- and ensured that the Giants would start 0-2 for the second season in a row.

It boils down to this: The Giants aren't a good team right now. They're a work in progress on offense, and while the defense looked better as this game went along, the secondary was a ragged, penalty-infested mess at the beginning.

In spite of that, the Giants were in a position to win it. But when you're not a good team, you can't get away with the kinds of mistakes they made. They turned the ball over four times, forced zero turnovers and committed nine penalties.

"When you do have an adverse circumstance, you've got to fight your way out of it," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of the way in which the fourth-quarter mistakes piled on top of each other. "But we would have been fine if we scored."

The problem is, right now, scoring is tough for the Giants. If you can't score and you're going to make a whole bunch of mistakes, you're going to lose. Pretty much every game. Even the ones you feel like you have in your pocket.

"We talk about winning the fourth quarter," Coughlin said. "We had the lead 14-13, and from there it was a nightmare."

Second time in as many weeks that Coughlin has used that word, "nightmare," unsolicited in a postgame news conference. That's a sign things are a long way from being fixed.

W2W4: New York Giants

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
3:00
PM ET
The New York Giants play the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Here are three things we'll be watching especially closely as the Giants try to avoid an 0-2 start:

[+] EnlargeMichael Floyd
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesArizona has many potent options in the passing game, none more dangerous than Michael Floyd, who had 119 yards in the opener.
1. How will they cover the Cardinals' receivers? Coverage was a big problem Monday night in Detroit against Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and the Lions, and it's not likely to get much easier this week. The Cardinals love to empty the backfield and load up with multiple-wide-receiver sets. You'll see the Giants in nickel and likely some dime this week, with Trumaine McBride on the field as a fourth cornerback in some situations. The biggest threat right now among the Arizona receivers is Michael Floyd, although rookie John Brown is a speed threat on the outside and veteran Larry Fitzgerald obviously can't be ignored in the slot. The Cardinals also throw to their tight ends and can throw it to running back Andre Ellington out of the backfield if Ellington is healthy. There's going to be a lot to keep track of in the secondary for a Giants team that didn't look to have everything together back there in the opener.

2. Will they get the ball to Victor Cruz? The Giants' best wide receiver said Tuesday that he thinks the offense will work better if he and Rueben Randle see more targets, so it'll be interesting to see whether New York runs plays specifically designed to do that. The Giants threw to Jerrel Jernigan and Larry Donnell a lot Monday because those guys were open, so the question becomes whether Randle and Cruz can get separation from defenders in short range better than they have so far -- and whether Cruz, who dropped two passes Monday, can catch everything they do throw to him. It's an offense that's out of sync, and a lot depends on the ability of the big guys up front to protect quarterback Eli Manning and allow him to get comfortable. But assuming he has enough time back there, it's important to watch to see how his timing with his better receivers looks this week. That's where the improvement has to come.

3. Can they run the ball against Arizona? The Cardinals' defense was the toughest against the run in the entire league last year, and it allowed just 52 rushing yards last week to a San Diego team that wants to establish the run. So it won't be easy, but the Giants still believe the best way to get their offense going is to establish balance and run the ball reliably. Rashad Jennings is the lead back, and if they can get enough run plays into the game (i.e., extend some drives with some first downs), they could work Andre Williams into the mix more as a ball carrier. But they need to find a way to get their bread-and-butter run plays blocked against Arizona's tough front early in the game or they won't be able to operate the rest of the offense the way they want to.

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
10:07
PM ET

DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 35-14 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

What it means: As we told you going into the season, the Giants' offense is not a finished product. Not even close. But the problems go well beyond whether they're picking up offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's new schemes. The Giants' problems are about personnel. The offensive line isn't good enough. They don't have enough at wide receiver, as Victor Cruz is easily erased from the game and Jerrel Jernigan and Rueben Randle aren't reliable. They have no dynamic tight end. And they didn't run the ball especially well Monday, either. Eli Manning's interceptions were bad, especially the second one, but the quality of the group around him needs to improve.

Stock Watch: The new Giants' secondary, DOWN. Yes, I know Calvin Johnson makes everybody look bad, but the breakdowns in the zones were terrible, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie made way too many mistakes, letting Johnson go into empty space on the first touchdown and letting Golden Tate get past him for a critical 44-yard catch on third down in the second half. The Giants aren't good enough on offense to allow for a leaky secondary. This is supposed to be the strength of the team, but it was a weakness Monday.

Line must improve: Pass protection was Manning's biggest problem last year, was a major issue in the preseason and was terrible again Monday night. Left tackle Will Beatty looks lost, and he and the rest of the offensive line need to figure out some things in a hurry if the Giants are to avoid a repeat of last year's offensive crater.

Game ball: Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. The one bright spot, I thought, was the Giants' run defense, led by the play of the beefy defensive tackles on the inside. Especially with only three of them active for the game, Jenkins, Johnathan Hankins and Mike Patterson had to handle a lot of the load and held up well, limiting a talented Detroit running game to 76 yards on 30 carries. Jenkins made the plays that stood out most to me, so I pick him.

What's next: The Giants host the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning says he doesn't care what the outside perception of the New York Giants' offense is, and Manning is easy to believe when he says such things. He is certainly accomplished enough in his career that he has no need to care about outside perception, and he has generally carried himself like someone unaffected by it. The fact that the passing game didn't show much in the preseason doesn't thrill him, but he is not bothered by how much it's worrying the fans.

So as the Giants begin their official preparations for their "Monday Night Football" opener in Detroit, Manning is focusing on the things the Giants' offense did well in the preseason, and choosing to build on those.

Manning
Cruz
"I think we've been running the ball well," Manning said after Monday morning's practice. "I think we need to get better in the passing attack, finding completions, hitting some big plays down the field. But we've been doing that in practice, so we've made some strides and made some plays, and we just have to keep protecting the ball and playing smart. We've gotten ourselves into some pretty good third-down situations as of late. We've just got to convert them."

Manning has, throughout the summer, painted a picture of an offense that is almost there. He also said last week that he expected this new offense, under first-year coordinator Ben McAdoo, to remain a work in progress throughout at least part of the season. The trick will be finding ways to win games while everyone is still getting fully up to speed.

"The big thing happening in the preseason, the reason we won a couple of games, is because we didn't beat ourselves," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "If you look at the numbers, you can see that. So that is something we can hang our hat on, regardless of what the statistics are."

You can start to imagine a plan in which the Giants get things started this season with a run-heavy offensive game plan whose emphasis is on limiting turnovers, then build a passing game off of that as the season goes along. Not that they would admit to something like that, but it might make sense since they feel good about their defense and the ability of their offensive line to at least block the run.

"I have been practicing and I know exactly what we are capable of," wide receiver Victor Cruz said, when asked his reasons for optimism. "I know all of the things we've implemented that are beneficial to us and can benefit us on game day, and I'm excited to put that to the test come Monday Night."

That is when we will start finding out just what the Giants believe they're able to do with their offense right now, and maybe what they might have to wait until later in the season to try.

New York Giants' projected roster

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
10:00
AM ET
One final projection of the New York Giants' 53-man roster before the final cuts are made Saturday:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
The Giants went into training camp hoping Nassib would beat out Curtis Painter for the backup quarterback job, and he clearly did. Not that they don't like Painter, but they didn't like carrying three quarterbacks last year and they won't do it again.

RUNNING BACKS (3)

Either Kendall Gaskins or Michael Cox could make it as a fourth running back, and I think the Giants would prefer to carry four. But the injury situation on the offensive line likely means they have to carry an extra player there, and this is the spot they have to take from.

FULLBACK (1)
Henry Hynoski has this spot locked up if he's healthy, but the shoulder injury that knocked him out of Thursday night's preseason finale could give it to Conner, who's stuck around all camp as a strong fallback option.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

Parker makes the team as the sixth wideout because (a) Marcus Harris is on IR, (b) Mario Manningham didn't show enough to make it and (c) he can return punts, and right now Beckham and Trindon Holliday can't because they have hamstring injuries. Holliday's lack of training camp practice time likely knocked him right off the team.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

I believe they will keep and use all four of these guys, though they'll have to rotate them in and out depending on situations. None has emerged as the do-it-all tight end they were hoping they'd find in camp.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
Geoff Schwartz's injury has created a real mess here, as he projects to miss a significant amount of time due to a dislocated toe and could start the season on short-term injured reserve. The most likely scenario is that Richburg ascends the starting left guard role, but Mosley remains a question mark at right guard, which is why Reynolds (who can play center or guard) enters the picture here. Jerry is either the starting right guard if Mosley can't go or else at least a more valuable reserve. Brewer, who once appeared gone for sure, becomes more valuable as an all-around backup if he can return to practice this week following a back injury. And the missed opportunity for Eric Herman, who is suspended for the first four games for a drug violation, looms even larger. I don't think they keep 10 offensive linemen long-term, but they may have to at the beginning of the season.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

Kuhn's leg injury, should it linger, could open up a spot for a defensive end such as Kerry Wynn to make the team. Bromley has looked surprisingly good in games so far and could slide in for Kuhn in the defensive tackle rotation for the short term.

LINEBACKERS (6)

It sounds as though Beason will be ready to start the season, which makes you wonder whether they might keep only five. If they do, the final cut is either Paysinger or Herzlich, who missed Thursday's preseason finale with a shoulder injury.

CORNERBACKS (5)

It helps the numbers that Jayron Hosley will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for a drug violation. If he does make the team, the Giants will have to clear a spot for him in Week 5. This group could also swell if the Giants decide they need to keep sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson for special teams. It's going to be tough to make the Giants' roster as a corner this summer, though Amukamara's groin injury could result in a short-term spot opening.

SAFETIES (4)
Cooper Taylor's toe injury landed him on injured reserve. That's unfortunate for Taylor, but it helps Berhe and likely helps someone at another position, such as Adrien Robinson at tight end. The Giants like to have a balanced roster -- 25 offensive players, 25 defensive and three specialists -- but that's not a requirement.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Sure things, all.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Mario Manningham was not one of the 15 players on the cut-down list Tuesday when the New York Giants reduced their roster from 90 to 75 players, but that doesn't mean he's making the team. The Giants still have a lot of sorting out to do at the wide receiver position before final cuts are made Saturday, and Manningham and his balky knee still have to show they belong.

Manningham
"He's had some spurts the last couple of weeks where he's done some things on the practice field, but it hasn't carried over into games," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after Tuesday's practice. "He'll get another chance."

The Giants used Manningham a fair bit with their first-team offense in Friday night's preseason game against the Jets, and they're likely to give him a good look in Thursday's preseason finale against the Patriots. First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury and is unlikely to be ready for the Sept. 8 season opener, camp star Marcus Harris was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and there remain some open spots on the roster at wide receiver.

"Any of the guys who are left know it goes from 75 to 53," Coughlin said. "You're ending up in a numbers game, and it is competitive."

Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Beckham are sure things to make the roster at wide receiver. Jerrel Jernigan, who's been running with the first team in Beckham's place all summer, looks like a strong bet as well, especially since he's Cruz's primary backup at the slot receiver position. Undrafted rookie Corey Washington has caught a touchdown pass in each of the Giants' first four preseason games and has obviously helped his cause. Preston Parker, who caught 40 passes for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011 but was out of football last season, appears to be the primary punt returner right now with Beckham and Trindon Holliday hurt, and that could help him earn a spot as a wide receiver as well. Julian Talley also survived Tuesday's cuts and therefore remains a candidate to be kept.

The Giants are likely to keep four tight ends when they cut the roster to 53 on Saturday, which might make it tough to keep six wide receivers, but if they need Parker for punt returns (or as a reserve wideout) while Beckham gets healthy, they may not have a choice.

Regardless, the numbers game doesn't seem to favor Manningham unless he blows the Giants away with a strong showing Thursday night. Maybe the fact the opponent is the Patriots, the team against which Manningham's career highlight came, will inspire him before it's too late.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Down seven spots from No. 34 to No. 41 in our annual ranking of the top 100 offensive NFL players, New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz nonetheless enters 2014 as one of the few sure things on a New York Giants' offense with tons of question marks. My question is whether Cruz can be productive enough in the Giants' new West Coast offense to move back into the top 40 next summer.

Cruz
The first-blush answer to that is yes. Cruz looks to be playing the Randall Cobb role if you compare this offense to that of the Green Bay Packers, which is new coordinator Ben McAdoo's former team. In Green Bay, Cobb lines up in the slot (or sometimes in the backfield) and catches a ton of passes, mainly at short range, and is asked to make plays with the ball in his hands. Cruz profiles as a player who fits that role nicely, and in theory it should mean great things for him.

The rest of the Giants' offense, though, makes you wonder if things can possibly go according to plan. If Cruz is in the slot, are the wide receivers on the outside good enough to make it all work? Can they find a representative tight end who can function as a complementary target to Cruz over the middle and in short range? Do they have enough depth at running back? Can the offensive line keep quarterback Eli Manning upright long enough for the offense to get into a rhythm?

You got a glimpse, during that two-minute drill at the end of the first half of Friday night's preseason game against the Jets, of the manner in which the Giants will use Cruz if things are going well. And if your fantasy draft was Thursday night and you ended up with Cruz, that drive likely made you feel pretty good about the possibilities. He's the No. 15 wide receiver in this year's #NFLRank poll, and he will be playing in an offense that should help his numbers justify that position or even better. As long as enough other things go well around him.

Cruz will be the last Giants player to appear on the lists, as they have no one who ranked in the top 40 on either offense or defense.

Giants on 2014 ESPN #NFLRank lists

WR Victor Cruz, No. 41 offense

DE Jason Pierre-Paul, No. 48 defense

QB Eli Manning, No. 62 offense.

CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, No. 79 defense

S Antrel Rolle, No. 83 defense

New York Giants' projected roster

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
8:00
AM ET
One final projection of the New York Giants' 53-man roster before the final cuts are made Saturday:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
Nassib's performances in the past two preseason games make the Giants far more confident about keeping him -- and only him -- as the backup to Manning.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Hillis' sprained ankle could help Gaskins and Michael Cox make the team if it lingers, but if they're picking between Cox and Gaskins for that fourth spot, Gaskins looks like the better player so far in camp. Tom Coughlin also keeps saying that the fullbacks can play running back, and they have been using Henry Hynoski all over the formation in practice, so it's possible they could carry just three here, especially if they can get Gaskins on the practice squad.

FULLBACK (1)

It's a camp battle between Hynoski and John Conner, and I don't think the Giants will keep both. There was even some talk early in camp that they could go without a fullback, but the continued poor showing by the tight ends likely has put that to bed.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Marcus Harris is ahead of both Washington and Parker, but he injured his shoulder Friday night and is likely to miss the start of the season, if not more. Parker sneaks onto the list this week because (a) with Beckham's hamstring injury continuing to be a problem, they may need to carry six wide receivers just to have five and (b) Parker is the primary punt returner right now with Beckham and Trindon Holliday laid up.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

Donnell, Davis and Robinson each got exactly 14 snaps in the first half Friday night, and Robinson was the only tight end in the game on the successful two-minute drill at the end of the first half. What's it all mean? Really just that no one has separated himself in this group. Davis was the starter ahead of Donnell for the first time Friday, but there's still no clarity on this situation.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
Geoff Schwartz's injury has created a real mess here, as he projects to miss a significant amount of time due to a dislocated toe. The most likely scenario is that Richburg ascends the starting left guard role, but Mosley remains a question mark at right guard, which is why Reynolds (who can play center or guard) enters the picture here. Jerry could claim one of the starting guard spots, but at the very least, he becomes a more valuable reserve. Brewer, who once appeared gone for sure, becomes more valuable as an all-around backup. And the missed opportunity for Eric Herman, who's suspended for the first four games for a drug violation, looms even larger.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

Very few changes here, though if Kuhn's leg injury ends up costing him practice time, it could open up a spot for someone like defensive end Kerry Wynn to make the team. Bromley has looked surprisingly good in games so far and could slide in for Kuhn in the defensive tackle rotation for the short term.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Kennard has been so good so far that, if they only keep five, you wonder about Paysinger's spot a little bit. Williams is the starter at the weakside spot, even in the base defense, as long as he can stay healthy. And Kennard is a first-teamer right now on the strong side, with McClain manning the middle in place of the injured Beason. I wonder if Kennard could keep the spot ahead of McClain even once Beason comes back. Herzlich is on the squad for special teams, where he has great value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

It helps the numbers that Jayron Hosley will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for a drug violation. If he does make the team, the Giants will have to clear a spot for him in Week 5. This group could also swell if the Giants decide they need to keep sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson and/or Charles James for special teams. It's going to be tough to make the Giants' roster as a corner this summer, though recent injuries to Amukamara and Bowman could result in a short-term spot opening.

SAFETIES (4)
Cooper Taylor's toe injury is serious enough to keep him out for a long time, possibly even the whole season. That's unfortunate for Taylor, but it helps Berhe and likely helps someone at another position, such as Charles James at cornerback or Adrien Robinson at tight end. The Giants like to have a balanced roster -- 25 offensive players, 25 defensive and three specialists -- but that's not a requirement.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Brown isn't home-free yet, as Brandon McManus is hitting bombs in practice and has shown well in games. But Brown hasn't done anything to lose his spot, and as long as he remains reliable, my bet is he keeps it.

Observation Deck: New York Giants

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
11:05
PM ET


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It took only three weeks, four preseason games and 37 pass attempts, but New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning finally threw a touchdown pass Friday night.

Manning's final play of the Giants' 35-24 exhibition victory over the New York Jets was a 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rueben Randle that capped off a successful two-minute drill by the Giants' first-team offense. After the way things had gone so far this preseason -- and in this game -- they needed it.

Here are some other thoughts on the Giants' fourth preseason game:
  • Until that two-minute drive, on which Manning was 7-for-10 for 91 yards and Victor Cruz caught three passes for 52 yards, the pass protection had been a major issue. Left tackle Will Beatty struggled mightily in his second game of the preseason. Left guard Geoff Schwartz went down with a dislocated toe. And Manning was under siege all night. It was no excuse for the terrible decision and throw he made on the fourth play of his final drive, which resulted in an interception that was overturned because the defender had stepped out of bounds. But Manning had trouble getting into a rhythm because his protection was a mess.
  • Backup quarterback Ryan Nassib looked sharp once again, throwing touchdown passes to Henry Hynoski and Preston Parker in the third quarter, and he looks like a strong bet to win the No. 2 quarterback job ahead of Curtis Painter.
  • Parker, by the way, continues to work as a punt returner with Odell Beckham Jr. and Trindon Holliday out, and a strong showing as a receiver helps his case to make the final roster. Also helping that case could be a bad break for Marcus Harris, who was getting significant work with the first-team offense Friday night before a shoulder injury knocked him out of the game.
  • Hynoski, by the way, looks as though he has a role to play in the offense, even though they're not using a fullback much in these preseason games. Hynoski can be used in a variety of ways, especially as the Giants continue to have questions at tight end.
  • Speaking of tight end, Kellen Davis got 14 first-team snaps, Larry Donnell got 14 and Adrien Robinson got 14, including all 11 in that two-minute drill during which the Giants didn't substitute. Davis was the starter, and five of Donnell's snaps were in two-tight-end formations with one of the other two on the field. Donnell also was flagged for a holding penalty and an illegal block in the back (which was declined). Still no clarity here.
  • Reserve defensive end Damontre Moore made his presence felt in the second half with a pair of sacks and a fumble recovery. Moore continues to make plays when given the chance, but the Giants are still working with him on playing more under control and avoiding penalties.
  • Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul left the game briefly with a knee injury but did return to action. Defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (lower leg) and cornerback Zack Bowman (triceps) left the game with injuries and did not return.
  • And of course, Corey Washington caught a touchdown pass for the fourth straight preseason game, because that's apparently a thing.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' first-string offense has looked terrible thus far in the preseason, but one of its stars sees better things ahead.

In fact, he's seen better things already, in the team's three practices this week.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsGiants QB Eli Manning has mostly struggled with his passing during the preseason.
"You can see a renewed energy out there on the practice field," wide receiver Victor Cruz said Wednesday. "Everybody’s getting things done at the right pace, everybody has an energy about themselves to know that we've gotta change the current mood that’s around here offensively. We've gotta get things going, we've gotta get on the right track."

The offense did look crisper Wednesday, with quarterback Eli Manning connecting with his receivers more often than he has in many practices thus far.

More telling will be Friday night's game against the New York Jets, in which Giants coach Tom Coughlin plans to play his starters the entire first half, or close to it.

"Based on last week I would hope that there is a significant production and better quality of play from our [first string], certainly," Coughlin said.

He was very unhappy with that unit following the team's game against the Indianapolis Colts last Saturday. Manning completed just 1 of 7 passes for 6 yards, and is 7-for-16 for 49 yards in three preseason games. Cruz has yet to catch a pass in three games.

The coach wants to see more, and "we got the message," said Cruz.

"He has a way of saying it that makes it very loud and very clear," Cruz said, smiling. [But] he didn’t even have to say anything for us to know that we had to play better and we had to perform better."

The slow start is a little less surprising given that the team has a new offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo, installing a new offense.

That being said, the Giants have played three games now, and the regular-season opener is only 19 days away.

The Jets game will likely be the starters' final extended chance to show what they can do, since coaches typically don't play first-stringers much, if at all, in the final game of the preseason.

Learning a new offense isn't the only challenge the Giants are facing. Rookie wideout Odell Beckham Jr., expected to be a major contributor this season, continues to be sidelined by a hamstring injury. He didn't practice again Wednesday, and has already been ruled out for the Jets game.

Coughlin continues to tinker with his offensive line. Right tackle Justin Pugh played some left tackle again Wednesday, for the second straight day. Geoff Schwartz, the presumed starting left guard, shifted to right tackle at one point, after playing some right guard Tuesday. The starting five, and their alignment, is far from set in stone.

And the Giants currently have six tight ends on the roster with a grand total of six catches in the NFL last season, and none have emerged as a clear-cut starter or likely major contributor to the passing game.

When asked Wednesday if the tight end picture has become any clearer, Coughlin's response was, "Well, they’ve all contributed, so we’ll keep asking them to do that."

But the Giants still have Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, and Cruz, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver. And Cruz says the Giants still believe in themselves despite the lackluster start.

"We definitely have enough confidence in ourselves, knowing that everybody’s gonna be OK," Cruz said. "But from an offensive standpoint, we definitely want to make some plays [Friday], have some success to kind of build on that confidence."

SPONSORED HEADLINES