Despite offensive woes, Cruz producing for Giants

Victor Cruz is beating the odds again.

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.

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AP NFL website: -www.pro32.ap.org