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Friday, September 13, 2013
WRs give Eli weapons to beat anyone

By Johnette Howard
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- There's never a good time to face Peyton Manning. What he did to defending champion Baltimore was the story of the NFL in Week 1. But it was still the law of probability, and not some silly bravado, that made Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas unafraid to look at the NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes that Manning torched the Ravens for last week, and still feel he didn't risk irritating the Broncos star with his prediction: "That's not going to happen again against us this week."

But there's another reason the 0-1 Giants think they can beat the Broncos in their home opener Sunday at MetLife Stadium, even if Peyton is 2-0 in these Manning Bowl showdowns against little brother Eli, and the Broncos, not the Giants, are a trendy Super Bowl pick. The reason isn't as headline-grabbing as Manning's shredding of the Ravens, or the six turnovers that doomed the Giants in their own season opener against Dallas last week, but, says Giants wideout Victor Cruz, it was right there for anyone to see as the Giants' furious second-half rally against the Cowboys fell just short during their 36-31 loss.

Rueben Randle, Dwyane Harris
Rueben Randle broke out with a five-catch, 101-yard effort against the Cowboys on Sunday.

Even if this Sunday's game does, in fact, turn into a shootout, the Giants believe their three wideouts have already shown they have the offensive firepower to stay in the game against anyone. Even Peyton.

Cruz says what he saw in Dallas was a defense scrambling for answers on exactly how to stop the Giants' passing attack. And his fellow wideouts, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle, noticed the same things.

"Teams can't key on just one of us," Cruz said this week. "We're all capable of making the big play, and stretching the field. And once I made that big play [for a 70-yard touchdown just before halftime], after that, you could see their defense backing up. Whenever I would go vertical, they would play that and left Hakeem wide open a couple times."

"The capabilities our offense showed ... it was a sight to see," Randle agreed.

All three Giants wideouts finished with more than 100 yards receiving.

And all three are finally healthy at the same time, for a change.

So anyone looking for a reason how the Giants can beat Peyton and the Broncos -- beyond, say, David Wilson cleaning up his fumbling problem, or the Giants' pass rush covering up for a potentially worrisome secondary that finds itself shorthanded because of injuries yet again -- doesn't have to search hard for the answers.

Broncos coach John Fox seemed to notice what Cruz saw in the Cowboys game, too.

"It's not just the quarterback -- it's the whole offense," Fox said on a conference call this week. "They're very talented and they can line up in certain groups and pound it at you, or they can line up in another group and throw it all over the block at a very successful rate."

The success that Cruz and Nicks had against Dallas is nothing new. Cruz did dismiss the lingering concerns about the sore heel that limited him during the preseason by catching three touchdown passes, and pulling away from the pursuit on that first-half bomb he caught. And Nicks was as physical and sure-handed as ever.

But Randle, a second-year pro? He admits there are benefits to being the least-known member of the trio.

"I definitely enjoy it because it gives me a lot of one-on-one coverage, which I like -- which I love," Randle says with a laugh.

Randle is just 22, but his five-catch, 101-yard performance against Dallas (an average of 20.2 yards a catch) looked so good, it already touched off speculation that the Giants will let Nicks, a pending free agent, walk after this season rather than give him the sort of big contract Cruz just received this offseason. But now we're getting way, way too far ahead of things.

For now, Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride just wants Randle to consistently repeat the kind of game he had against Dallas. Gilbride says he'd thought Randle had the talent to make this kind of breakthrough before, but the young wideout only now has the right mindset.

"From the spring on, he's done very well," Gilbride said. "It's somewhat night and day in terms of his approach. He's been professional, very workmanlike. He's always had some ability, and so you just thought if he would do what he's doing now, which is really focused and zeroed in, he'd be a good player in this league.

"It's still a long season. You have to do it over a long period of time. [But] I wasn't surprised, let's put it that way. I was hoping and it's what I kind of thought he would do."

The Broncos' receiving group -- starting with Wes Welker, Eric Decker, and Demaryius Thomas -- is as dangerous as the Giants'. So don't be surprised if Sunday's game is another high-scoring day that makes you wonder why anyone would want to be an NFL defensive back.

Knowing his quarterback has never won one of these Manning Bowls, Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck has already promised if he gets a good lick on Peyton, he's going to whisper in his ear, "That was for Eli."

Eli has never compiled the sort of high-volume passing stats that Peyton routinely posts. But Sunday will mark the first time any two NFL quarterbacks (not just two brothers) are facing each other after having thrown for 450 or more passing yards the previous week. Gilbride said the only reason the Giants passed as much against Dallas as they did was their desperation to get back in the game, and that the way all three receivers responded in the 36-31 loss was "encouraging."

"I think we've got some good players. I think we have a hell of a scheme. I think we've got one hell of a quarterback," Gilbridge said. "And if we can protect and do the things that we need to do, where we can get them [Cruz, Nicks and Randle] into the flow of the game, then I think they'll be a difficult matchup for anyone."

With Peyton in town, Randle says, they better be.

"We're going to definitely need all of us again."