NFL Nation: Victor Cruz

INDIANAPOLIS -- General manager Jerry Reese met with the media Saturday at the NFL combine. Here's what we learned about the New York Giants:

They're still looking for David Wilson's replacement: The Giants' 2012 first-round pick had to retire last summer because of neck injuries, and the Giants this offseason are on the lookout for a speedy, home-run hitter running back who can complement Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. "We've got some big bangers, and David was a fast, quick guy who could catch the ball out of the backfield," Reese said. "You lose a dynamic-type player, it stings a little bit. But it's football, and we'll try and replace that position."

Amukamara
Cornerback Prince Amukamara isn't a contract-extension candidate: Amukamara is scheduled to make $6.898 million this year on the fifth-year contract option the Giants picked up last offseason, then be a free agent at season's end. Reese said the team would first have to assess Amukamara's health (he's coming off a season-ending arm injury) before proceeding with a long-term deal, and he doesn't feel the need to extend Amukamara just to get his cap number in line. "For a starting corner, that's a good price," Reese said.

The Giants are assuming nothing with regard to Victor Cruz: Reese continues to say the team hopes for a full recovery by Cruz from the severe knee injury that ended his 2014 season in Week 6. But he repeated Saturday that, until they see Cruz on the field and running the way he used to, they can't assume that recovery will happen. Receiver remains a position at which Reese would hate to be caught short, and if concerns about Cruz linger in April and May, the Giants could use an early pick on a wideout.

Landon Collins is obsessed with Sean Taylor: The Alabama star, who is the top safety in this year's draft and a possible first-round pick for the Giants, said he watched Taylor's game film before every game, wears No. 26 because Taylor wore it in college, roots for Washington because that was Taylor's NFL team and cried when he heard the news of Taylor's death in 2007.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The New York Giants' hope is that wide receiver Victor Cruz will make a full recovery from last year's major knee injury and join a 2015 group of receivers that would be formidable with Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle as its primary threats. But GM Jerry Reese said Saturday that the team's offseason plan cannot assume a full recovery by Cruz.

"When a guy has a big injury like Victor had, you can't put all your eggs in his basket," Reese said. "Our doctors say he looks good. I see him down in the training room, working out with our trainers and our medical people, and he looks good. But his game is quickness. And until you get out there and move around, you never really know how he's going to recovery from that. We're hoping and praying that he'll come back 100 percent and be the Victor Cruz that we know, but you can't put 100 percent in that basket."

Cruz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in a Week 6 loss in Philadelphia, had surgery immediately thereafter and missed the rest of the season. He said in December that his hope was to be ready in time for training camp, but that he couldn't be certain. The rehab from that injury and surgery is long and difficult. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said earlier this week that he believed the plan was for Cruz to start running soon, which would indicate progress, but there remains a long way to go.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
Alex Trautwig/Getty ImagesThe Giants will proceed as if Victor Cruz won't return at 100 percent, but he is "looking good," according to GM Jerry Reese.
In the meantime, Reese said, wide receiver is among the positions the Giants will look to improve this offseason.

"We'll upgrade receiver. We'll try to upgrade that spot as well," Reese said. "If Victor's back, and Odell and Rueben, that's a pretty good core. And there are some other guys, [Preston] Parker, [Corey] Washington, some younger guys. But if there's a good receiver, guys, we'll draft him."

Reese chuckled at a question about Beckham, who told reporters at the Pro Bowl that he'd played with two tears in his hamstrings in 2014.

"I don't know about that. I think he's trying to be a hero," Reese said. "I don't think you can play with two torn hamstrings and run fast like that. I think our doctors would have caught that."

Beckham missed all of training camp and the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, but recovered to catch 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games and win the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. There were times during the second half of the season when Beckham admitted to pulling up on a deep route because he felt the hamstring tug and he didn't want to pull it again.

"According to our doctors, it was healed up," Reese said. "He may have gotten fatigued later in the season, but I don't think you can go out there and run like that if you've got a couple of torn hamstrings."

Reese also took a question about Randle, who was benched a couple of times late in the season for issues relating to punctuality and practice habits. Randle's relationship with the coaching staff seemed to improve late in the season and he finished with a flurry, catching 12 passes for 290 yards in the final two games of the season. Randle is under contract for less than $840,000 in salary and bonuses this year and counts just $1.047 million against the cap. He has a chance to be among the better bargains in the league at the position.

"Rueben gets banged on a lot. Sometimes he should get banged on, but I think he gets banged on a little bit too much," Reese said. "I think he's a good young player. All he needs is some chances. And with Odell and Victor, I think he'll get plenty of chances."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Coach Tom Coughlin met with the media Thursday at the NFL combine. Here's what we learned about the New York Giants:

Coughlin is likely to get a contract extension: Just like last year, when the Giants tacked one more year onto his deal so he didn't have to go into the season as a lame duck, Coughlin is likely to have his deal extended through 2016. He said there would be news on that at some point soon, though he didn't say what the news would be.

Weston Richburg is likely to play center: Coughlin said the 2014 second-round pick, who started 15 games at left guard as a rookie, is a center and would be "given every opportunity" to compete for the starting center job. Coughlin didn't say this, but 2014 starting center J.D. Walton is a likely cap cut whose release would save the Giants $3 million against this year's cap.

Victor Cruz is coming along: Coughlin said Cruz, the star wide receiver who tore his patellar tendon in Week 6, is doing well in his recovery and is planning to start running again soon. The Giants hope Cruz can recover in time for training camp, but they acknowledge his injury was quite serious and will give him the time he needs to recover.

Pass rush is a priority: Even if they re-sign or franchise Jason Pierre-Paul as expected, Coughlin indicated the Giants would be looking to add another pass-rusher this offseason. Coughlin didn't make it sound as though he expected Mathias Kiwanuka (another likely cap casualty) back next season, and while he said he likes Robert Ayers and Damontre Moore, Coughlin said the Giants would like to add to that arsenal as well.

The Giants are meeting with running backs: One of the items on the Giants' offseason agenda is a change-of-pace, big-play-threat running back to fill the role they had carved out for David Wilson last year. One of the many players with whom they've met here is Indiana running back Tevin Coleman, who had 14 rushing touchdowns of 43 or more yards and eight of 64 or more yards in college.

New York Giants season report card

December, 31, 2014
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video » AFC: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

The 2014 New York Giants had two three-game win streaks. Their quarterback cut his interception total nearly in half from last year. And they might well have the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year.

But what the Giants didn't have was enough success -- not nearly enough. After going 7-9 last year and overhauling the offense, the Giants went 6-10 in 2014 and missed the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six years.

Yes, they had a ton of injuries -- 22 players on injured reserve, more than any other team in the league. And yes, they did have their moments on offense. But they couldn't hang with the good teams in the league and really were never a factor in the playoff race after the midway point of the season.

At the end of it, another disappointing year for a team that always says it wants to win the Super Bowl but, most years, can't even get itself into the postseason.

Team MVP: Odell Beckham Jr. To win a team MVP award after missing all of training camp and the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury takes some doing. But the Giants' rookie wide receiver was unquestionably their best player once he was on the field, and the numbers he put up in his three-quarters of a season ranked among those of the best players in the NFL. He finished the season with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 12 games. The Giants are excited as they look ahead to the possibility of a full 2015 season with Beckham and Victor Cruz both healthy at wide receiver.

Best moment: Beckham's twisting, one-handed touchdown catch in the Week 12 loss to the Cowboys might have been the No. 1 individual highlight of the entire NFL season. The catch made Beckham an instant sensation, landed him a dinner in New York City with LeBron James and shined a light on the best thing the Giants had going for them in the midst of a seven-game losing streak and overall dismal season. Those who had been watching Beckham in practice every day, in pregame warmups and in non-prime-time games were of course dazzled to see his best work live and in a difficult game situation, but the excitement over Beckham that has followed is fully justified based on the way he played before and after "The Catch."

Worst moment: When Cruz went up to try to catch a short pass in the end zone in Week 6 in Philadelphia and tore his patellar tendon before he hit the ground, it was as sickening and disappointing a moment as any the Giants had all year. Seeing Cruz, in tears, taken off the field on a cart with a team trainer holding his knee in place was tough to watch, and obviously the impact on the Giants' offense the rest of the way was significant. If they ever had a chance to make anything of this season, losing Cruz just as they were getting Beckham into the lineup took it right away from them.

2015 outlook: Hard to say for sure until we see what happens in free agency. But assuming they add a piece or two on the offensive line and address the pass rush, either by re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul or finding a high-end solution on the market, there is reason to hope next year will be better than the past two were. They obviously demonstrated progress and growth in Ben McAdoo's offense as the year went along. Quarterback Eli Manning had a fine season and -- apart from one five-interception mess against the 49ers -- did a better job of protecting the ball and making smart decisions than he has in years past. The array of weapons around Manning heading into 2015 gives reason for optimism.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Victor Cruz suffered his season-ending knee injury the week before Odell Beckham Mania began. On Oct. 12, during the New York Giants 27-0 loss in Philadelphia, Cruz told Beckham that more would be expected of him now that Cruz was done for the year. In the nine games since, Beckham has 73 catches for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Cruz is loving it.

Cruz
"Watching Odell has been fun, man," Cruz said Wednesday. "Seeing the things he's doing out there, it has me motivated to come back and play next to him next year."

Cruz tore his patellar tendon that night in Philadelphia, requiring surgery and a long rehab process. He said the rehab is going well -- that he's walking on the treadmill, doing some trampoline work and some strength exercises for the muscles in his leg.

"I'm pretty much fully mobile," Cruz said. "I'm just not running yet."

Cruz said he spoke with teammates Zack Bowman and Marcus Harris, who have come back from the same injury, and that he came away from those conversations encouraged about his chances to return to pre-injury form. He said he believes his leg can come back even stronger than it was before the injury, and his goal is to return in time for training camp next July, though he said he'll of course listen to the doctors and trainers with regard to timetable.

"There's no doubt in my mind that I'll return to form and be the payer I was in years past," Cruz said. "I'm just excited to get myself together and play next to that kid next year."

These Giants are clearly not contenders

October, 19, 2014
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The two weeks that were going to tell us all about the 2014 New York Giants went about as poorly as they could have gone and told us everything we needed to know.

The Dallas Cowboys beat the Giants 31-21 on Sunday at AT&T Stadium to improve to 6-1. They lead the NFC East by a half-game over the idle Philadelphia Eagles, who are 5-1 and beat the Giants 27-0 last Sunday. The Giants are 3-4, well behind two teams that just beat them, and as they head into their bye week, they look absolutely nothing like a team with playoff hopes.

"This is our bye week, and when we come back, we want to be a great team," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "We have a good football team. When we get those kinks out of there, we'll be all right."

That is the right way for the players in the locker room to think, because their job is to take the field every week and give an honest effort to win games. But to those of us who stand on the outside and evaluate these teams against one another, it's clear that these Giants are not that good. They're not a terrible team, as they were this time last year, but they're not a contender either. They are a rebuilding team and clearly have been since they changed up the offense and blew out the free-agent budget in the offseason, signing more free agents than any other team.

And while the remainder of this year is likely to feature periods of encouraging progress, right now the Giants just don't have enough good players to hang with the top teams in the league.

"We've got to figure out a way to get better," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We have to eliminate the mistakes and the little things so we can execute better and find a way to sustain more drives."

The Giants were penalized six times for 40 yards, and the timing of the penalties was backbreaking. They lost two fumbles, the first of which came at a point when the game was still in question.

These are the mistakes to which Manning refers, and the Giants aren't a team that can overcome such mistakes. Given their significant personnel deficiencies relative to their division rivals, they need to be just about perfect to win games.

The Cowboys' offensive skill-position players Sunday around quarterback Tony Romo included Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten and emerging tight end Gavin Escobar. Their opposite numbers on the Giants were Rueben Randle, Andre Williams, Odell Beckham Jr., Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells. Size those groups up against each other and there's no reason to believe the game should have been close. That Giants' core has talent and promise, but no neutral observer could think it compares to the Cowboys' offensive personnel at this stage in the careers of the people on those lists.

Add in the fact that the Giants are missing top wide receiver Victor Cruz, starting running back Rashad Jennings, top cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and starting middle linebacker Jon Beason due to injury and lost starting defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins early in Sunday's game. These are significant losses to overcome, and the Giants at this stage in their roster rebuild don't have the depth to overcome them.

"We keep forgetting about that, because we have to come back and play next week," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "But when you do lose key players, it definitely can hurt your team."

It's crippling the Giants, who needed everything possible to go right to contend this year. In the end, the best they can hope for this season is to be able to say at its end that they made progress in the new offensive scheme and have a plan for patching the remaining holes next offseason. Any talk of firing coaches is likely to be unjustified -- as it usually is -- because this is a roster-in-progress and a project that likely needs at least two years to bear fruit.

That's the reality of what the Giants are dealing with in 2014, and it always has been. Players like Beckham offer hope for the future, and this Giants team is likely to be better this time next year than it is right now. But right now, the simple fact is it's not good enough to be a contender. Not this year.

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

October, 19, 2014
10/19/14
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 31-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.

What it means: Pretty simply, that the Giants are not an NFC East contender. The first-place Cowboys are 6-1. The second-place Eagles are 5-1. The Giants, having lost to both of those teams in the past eight days, are 3-4. The season is obviously not "over" by any means, but at this point -- especially playing without Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings -- the Giants are outmanned on offense. They don't have enough reliable playmakers or a good enough offensive line to compete with the league's top teams. They're a still-rebuilding team that has shown some progress and will surely show more but is most likely at least a year from serious contention.

Stock watch: Jon Beason's health, DOWN. The Giants middle linebacker practiced as fully this past week as he has at any time since injuring his toe in spring practices, yet he still couldn't even finish the first half as he aggravated the injury again. It's fair to wonder whether Beason can honestly expect to be a helpful player for the Giants this season. He gets two weeks now to rest and heal, but the pattern here is obviously not a hopeful one.

Prince on Dez: Cornerback Prince Amukamara's game deserves mention here, and for positive reasons. Yes, I know he was in coverage on the Dez Bryant touchdown that put the game away, but I don't think he or any corner in the league could have prevented that incredible catch by Bryant. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie injured and unable to contribute, Amukamara had to cover Bryant all day and, in spite of what the final numbers say, did a more-than-respectable job. He also came up with his third interception of the season, which matches the total number he had in his first three years in the league.

Game ball: Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants' first-round pick has played three games now, and his role is likely to expand as the season goes on. But he's already a very handy weapon for Eli Manning in the passing game. Beckham caught two touchdown passes Sunday and now has three in his young career. He also had a 13-yard pickup on an end-around run early in the game, signaling the possibility that his talent will allow for more creativity going forward in the Giants' offensive game plan.

What's next: The Giants are on bye next week. Their next game is Monday night Nov. 3 at home against the Indianapolis Colts.
PHILADELPHIA -- The New York Giants lost more than a game here Sunday night. They lost wide receiver Victor Cruz for the season to a knee injury -- a loss that hit them on a deeper emotional level than did the 27-0 loss on the scoreboard. They also lost ground in the NFC East. Rather than playing for first place next week in Dallas, they sit at 3-3, a full two games behind the two teams tied for first place in their division.

It was a terrible night on every conceivable level for the Giants -- a rude splash of cold water in the face of a team that was beginning to feel as though it had things figured out.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Rich Schultz /Getty ImagesEli Manning and the Giants couldn't get going against the Eagles and fell to 3-3.
"I think it's a good reminder that you can't just show up on the field and have things go well for you automatically," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "You've got to earn it."

The Giants aren't as bad as they looked Sunday night. Nor are they as good as they looked during the three-game winning streak they carried here with them on a wave of bizarre midweek trash talk. They are what we thought they were all along -- a rebuilding team that's going to show progress in spurts but isn't likely to sustain excellence anytime soon. They're a team unlikely to be able to survive injuries to players as important to them as Cruz and injured running back Rashad Jennings, who missed this game with a knee injury of his own. They're good enough and well-coached enough that it's not going to shock you to see them win any given game, yet they're unfinished enough that they can still get their helmets handed to them by a 2013 playoff team that has as many good players as the Eagles do.

"Definitely, the first couple of series, we got punched in the mouth," Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "We started bleeding, and we couldn't put a Band-Aid on it."

The Eagles dominated the Giants on both lines. They sacked Manning six times and backup Ryan Nassib twice in what Giants right tackle Justin Pugh called "probably the worst game I've ever played, hands down, not even close." The Eagles' offensive line kept the Giants' pass-rushers away from quarterback Nick Foles and opened enough holes to break star running back LeSean McCoy out of his early-season funk. The Eagles were, by the Giants' own admission, the more physical team and the team that wanted the game more.

"We took the night off," Giants safety Antrel Rolle said. "No rhyme or reason for it."

That's going to be the frustrating thing about this Giants season. You're not likely to know when the good game is coming or when the stinker is just around the corner. They will be inconsistent and maddening, because that is the type of team they are. They are still putting a lot of new pieces together, still trying to make progress in the new offense. If you believed that progress would continue without any setbacks, you now know how wrong you were.

The injury to Cruz only adds to the challenge. Jennings was clearly missed, as the Giants don't trust rookie Andre Williams in passing situations yet and the Eagles played defense as though they knew it. And starting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who missed the second half with back spasms, is starting to become a regular injury question mark.

A team in the Giants' position -- one that's still trying to find itself -- is going to feel those injuries keenly. Cruz, Jennings and Rodgers-Cromartie are vital pieces not easily replaced. And even if the Giants get tough relief efforts from guys such as Odell Beckham Jr., Williams and Zack Bowman, there are enough cracks elsewhere on the roster that the hiccups are likely to continue.

There's nothing wrong with being a team like that as long as you're making progress. And Sunday night notwithstanding, the Giants have shown progress over the season's first six weeks. If you can contend while you're rebuilding, it's a bonus. And while these Giants may yet be able to pull that off, their main goals this year should be to show progress and figure out which holes remain for them to plug next offseason. Nothing about the first six weeks of the season has really changed that. Sunday night, in the end, was only a reminder that this is a team that still has a long way to go.
PHILADELPHIA -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New York Giants' 27-0 loss to the Eagles:
  • Giants safety and team captain Antrel Rolle said, "We took the day off. No rhyme or reason for it. In this league, you can't take days off, and we did. Everyone." That was the theme in the locker room -- that the Giants were beaten thoroughly on both sides of the ball from the start. "We just didn't come out and play physical enough," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "They were the better team and they won this game. They wanted it more today."
  • Obviously, the Giants were distraught over the season-ending injury to wide receiver Victor Cruz. Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka hadn't heard the diagnosis of a torn patellar tendon until reporters told him. "That's about as bad as it can get," Kiwanuka said. "The sad thing about this game is, every week, somebody's season is over. Most times you don't even see it, they go to commercial and come back and the game keeps going. But that's our teammate out there. We feel that."

Odell Beckham Jr. could play Sunday

October, 2, 2014
10/02/14
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Of the 32 players selected in the first round of this year's NFL draft, the only one who has yet to appear in an NFL game is New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. He injured his hamstring on the first day of training camp, July 22, and didn't really return to practice until last week.

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Beckham
But after practicing two days in a row this week -- albeit on an officially "limited" basis -- Beckham has a chance to make his NFL debut Sunday in the Giants' home game against the Atlanta Falcons.

"We'll take it slow with him, but he would be a nice guy to add to the mix," offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said Thursday of Beckham. "He has a unique skill set. We like the way he can get in and out of his routes. We like to cross-train as many different guys doing as many different things as we can. He's certainly mentally capable of handling things, and physically, he's a first-round pick. He's a talented man."

The Giants have been in three-wide receiver sets for nearly 80 percent of their offensive plays this year, which means that Beckham doesn't have to pass Victor Cruz or Rueben Randle on the depth chart to play a significant role. Once he's fully healthy (and again, that time has not yet come -- he's not even a 100 percent sure thing to play Sunday), he'll most likely slide into the outside receiver spot that's been handled by Jerrel Jernigan and Preston Parker so far this year.

Beckham also is someone who can return punts, though Giants coach Tom Coughlin said the other day that he doesn't have to be a punt returner in order to get on the field. The Giants have been happy with Parker in that role and can ease Beckham in as a receiver before throwing him back there on punts. McAdoo's not the only coordinator who's eager to see him, however.

"He's a dynamic player, and we've all kind of been anxious to see him," special teams coordinator Tom Quinn said. "When he was coming out of college, I thought he had running back-like run skills in a receiver's body. He's able to get vertical, has good elusiveness. That kind of stood out, in addition to the speed and the playmaking ability."

Giants coaches, players and fans have been eager to see Beckham in action since the team picked him No. 12 overall in May. That day could finally be on the horizon.

Falcons vs. Giants preview

October, 2, 2014
10/02/14
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The New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons, a pair of 2013 disappointments with identical 2-2 records and hopes of factoring into their respective division races, play at MetLife Stadium at 1 p.m. ET Sunday. ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano and ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure present their preview:

Graziano: Vaughn, I'm going to get to the Falcons' defense in a minute, because I have a ton of questions about that. But I'd be remiss if I didn't start by asking: What was tight end Levine Toilolo doing at right tackle in the loss to Minnesota, and are they going to have five real offensive linemen to suit up for them Sunday?

McClure: The Falcons really had no other choice at the end of the Vikings game after three starting offensive linemen -- center Joe Hawley (ACL), left guard Justin Blalock (back) and right tackle Lamar Holmes (foot) -- exited with injuries. Two other linemen were inactive for the game. So, yes, depth is an issue with Hawley and Holmes on season-ending injured reserve. The good thing for the Falcons is that linemen Gabe Carimi, Peter Konz, Ryan Schraeder and rookie James Stone are capable of playing multiple positions. The Falcons also promoted guard Harland Gunn from the practice squad and signed tackle Cameron Bradfield. Konz's performance will be key as he steps in for Hawley, and the Falcons better hope Blalock's back responds well in preparation for Sunday.

I watched the Giants-Redskins game and was impressed with what the Giants were able to accomplish offensively. Can they sustain such momentum, particularly coming off a couple of extra days of rest?

Graziano: They're hoping so. What the Giants are saying is that the way the offense has looked the past two games represents progress in the new system, and that's why they think it has a chance to be more "real" than what they showed in the first two games. We will see.

What has surprised me is the way the offensive line has held up in pass protection the past two games after looking like a liability in preseason and once the regular season started. If that continues, then Eli Manning -- who's releasing the ball about a half-second faster on average this season due to the shorter drops and quicker reads on which the new system is built -- should be in a strong position to succeed. But since they're not a quick-strike downfield offense right now, I wonder what happens if they fall behind in a game and have to get into a shootout with a high-powered offensive team. The Texans aren't that, and Washington didn't put up a fight. Atlanta has all the weapons, but is the passing game where it needs to be right now in order to take advantage of the talent?

McClure: I think that goes back to our first question, Dan. If quarterback Matt Ryan gets adequate protection, he's one of the elite quarterbacks in this league. But it's hard to get that type of protection when you're using tight ends at right tackle.

Ryan actually has done a marvelous job extending plays with his feet, partly due to increased protection up front in the form of veteran right guard Jon Asamoah and rookie left tackle Jake Matthews. If Ryan can overcome whatever changes are made up front for the Giants, then maybe he’ll get the offense back in high gear. That’s something the Falcons haven’t been able to do on the road, where they’ve dropped four straight. Ryan needs time to find a playmaker such as Julio Jones down the field.

I saw a few unheralded Giants make some plays in the last game. It seems like the Falcons' defense lets no-name players have career games every time out. What do you expect out of some of the Giants' role players?

Graziano: My guess is that you're referring to tight end Larry Donnell, who caught three touchdown passes in Washington. The Giants always believe they can find productivity at tight end on the cheap, so they didn't flinch when everybody was getting on them all offseason for not having one. Donnell runs good routes and can jump high to catch the ball (he's a 6-foot-6 former basketball player), and it's to the coaching staff's credit that that's exactly what they're using him to do. He's not much of a blocker and can't do anything after the catch, but the thing he's good at, he's very good at, and as long as other teams aren't defending it well, they Gians will keep going back to it.

Fundamentally, this offense is built to operate through the run game, and it will continue to do so with an emphasis on Rashad Jennings as the lead back. He and rookie Andre Williams split carries Thursday because Jennings had 34 carries in the game just four days earlier, and they got a big lead and could ease off the gas. But it'll be Jennings to run the ball and set up play-action, and then it'll be Donnell, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle or whoever's open when they throw it. Short stuff, timing-based stuff, and stuff designed to minimize mistakes and put the unimpressive names they have in the best possible positions to succeed.

Which brings me to this: The Falcons' defense seems to be quite good at putting opposing offenses in position to succeed. Any hope of things getting any better, or is this a defense that's going to struggle all year?

McClure: It's going to be a struggle unless they magically come up with some way to trade for J.J. Watt. There are not enough playmakers on the Falcons' defense, with no elite pass-rusher and no ball hawking defensive back who will create a lot of turnovers. Throw in their defensive leader, strong safety William Moore, being placed on short-term IR with a shoulder injury, and you have the recipe for disaster.

The defense actually looked respectable against Tampa Bay, but that was because the offense got off to a hot start and the Buccaneers were in desperation mode early. There is no excuse for giving up 558 yards to a Vikings team playing without Adrian Peterson and with a rookie quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. The Falcons continue to struggle with their third-down defense and continue to give up explosive plays. Manning and Jennings, among others, should be itching to put up big numbers against this pathetic defense that gives up a league-worst 8.37 yards passing per play and yields 429.8 yards per game, which is second-to-last in the league.

Defensively, how do you expect the Giants to contend with Jones, Devin Hester and Antone Smith?

Graziano: The Giants made a change at free safety last week, benching Stevie Brown for Quintin Demps, who was signed as a kick returner and has good speed on the back end. That change was made because Brown was struggling, but also with an eye toward the speed matchups they had coming up on the schedule -- DeSean Jackson last week, the guys you mention this week, and Jeremy Maclin and the Eagles next week.

Demps will play in the post while Antrel Rolle can move up in the box, and they'll likely plaster cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Jones and use Prince Amukamara on whoever the second receiver is. Trumaine McBride, who was a starter last season, has replaced the injured Walter Thurmond as the nickel. McBride is a high-effort guy, but you can win physical matchups against him. The Giants rely on Rodgers-Cromartie's and Amukamara's ability to hold up in man coverage, but they believe they have enough speed with Demps and weakside linebacker Jacquian Williams to help supplement that as needed. If Rodgers-Cromartie is limited this week with his thigh injury, that could affect things. But as of now, that's the plan.

Good stuff, Vaughn, thanks. Travel safe, and I'll see you Sunday.

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?


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
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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."
EAST 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?

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