Cruz only bright spot in weak Giants offense
Despite missing offseason workouts because of contract talks and sitting out the final two-plus weeks of training camp with a bruised heel, Cruz is among the NFL's top receivers for the winless Giants.
The salsa-dancing former free agent who earned his first Pro Bowl nod last season has 26 catches for 425 yards and four touchdowns. The reception total is tied for 10th in the league. The yardage total is fourth overall and his 24 points are tied for sixth among non-kickers.
''He's playing as well as we've seen him play,'' coach Tom Coughlin said. ''Thank God for it.''
What makes those statistics even more impressive is that Cruz is playing with an offense that has scored seven touchdowns in four games. He has been the constant with a group that can't run the ball or protect quarterback Eli Manning.
''I am just going out there playing,'' Cruz said. ''I am going out there, doing what is asked of me, running my plays, getting myself open. That's all I can do. It just so happens a lot of success has come my way and I have been catching the ball and making plays, and doing things like that. That's all I can speak for. I don't know why that is. I'm just doing my job.''
Coming into this season, there were a lot of questions concerning the 26-year-old Cruz, who grew up in nearby Paterson. No one questioned his ability. An undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts in 2010, he's been one of the most productive receivers in the NFL. Over the last two seasons, he has 168 receptions for 1,628 yards and 19 touchdowns.
The concerns this year: the contract. Cruz did not work out with the team in the offseason. He signed a five-year, $43 million extension in July.
Then he hurt his left heel against Indianapolis on Aug. 18.
Early on, it's obviously the contract hasn't changed Cruz.
''Victor gives 100 percent every play in practice,'' Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said. ''He really gets mad if he drops a ball, which rarely happens. He is always going full speed. It seems it's the only speed Victor has.''
Cruz believes he is playing well, noting that he is recognizing blitzes, understands the offensive and knows how to play the game. His critique of himself: He needs to improve his blocking.
''I am not thinking about contracts. I don't think about money. I don't think about anything when I am out there playing,'' he said. ''I just think about going out there and perform. I am just happy I am continuing to be the same Victor I was a year ago and the year before that; still being someone held accountable for everything that he is doing, which is what they expect out of me and what Eli expects out of me. I am just happy I am continuing to be a playmaker for my team.''
Cruz has had three 100-yard games this season, including a season-high 164 against the Chiefs last weekend, when he had a 69-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He also showed his frustration after the game, criticizing a decision by Coughlin not to go for a first down with New York down 10-7 and faced with fourth and less than a yard at its 30.
Coughlin punted and the Chiefs broke open the game on an 89-yard return for a TD by Dexter McCluster.
Cruz refused to talk about the incident Wednesday, saying he was looking forward to playing the Eagles (1-3) on Sunday.
Opponents have been employing special coverages for Cruz or trying to get a second defender to help out. However, it also creates some scenarios Cruz can take advantage of, like Sunday when the Chiefs used single coverage on his long TD.
Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas said Cruz needs to do more, and the offense should just continue to feed him the ball.
''He is not explosive fast, and not just really strong,' Thomas said of Cruz. ''I think he and Eli have a good understanding of raw concepts and reads. When you are in the slot and covering someone who can go either way, it makes it somewhat impossible at times to cover him.''
NOTES: C David Baas (neck) and G Chris Snee (hip) have not improved. G-T David Diehl looks like he could be ready to return from a broken thumb this weekend. ... MLB Mark Herzlich (toe), DT Cullen Jenkins (knee-Achilles tendon), DT Linval Joseph (ankle-knee) , DT Shaun Rogers (back), CB Aaron Rogers (back) and CB Jaron Hosley (hamstring) didn't practice Wednesday. ...CB Corey Webster returned to practice on a limited basis after missing the last two games. ...DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) practiced fully and said he would play Sunday.