Pros and Cons, Week 4: Cruz is Lucky, Eli is Elite

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These must be the Giants of old, because no win can ever come easy. Each game has to cost the fans enough stress to take a few years off our lives, it’s practically a requirement when you sign up to root for this team. But watching the Gmen at work is definitely never boring, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Once again they found a way to win, and I had quite a few observations, both good and bad, about this week’s showdown in the desert.

Cons

I doubt any coverage of this game will fail to include the controversial call in favour of Victor Cruz in the fourth quarter that ultimately led to the winning touchdown. Even though the call was a positive one for the Giants, I have to get on Cruz for making such a rookie mistake in letting the ball go without being touched. My gut reaction in watching that play as it first happened was that Cruz saw he had nowhere to go, and rather than eat up time trying to do something fancy, he went down so the team could get to the next play quickly. Smart move. I have yet to see evidence that he slipped, as the announcers kept insisting. But in his hurry to line up for the next play he let the ball go without being touched. Not so smart, especially since there is just no way he knew about the “giving yourself up” rule. He made a mistake, and he is extremely lucky that he happened to be following some obscure rule. He is new to the league, this is his first year playing in games that count, and you have to expect mistakes like this will happen. Hopefully he will learn from it.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Cruz this marks the second week in a row that Cruz is on the positive end of a confusing and controversial call at crucial times in the game. His second touchdown last week was also the result of a strange call. Given the amount of bad luck this team has had until this point, the change of pace is pretty nice!

One other point about this rule: I really have no idea whether the officials interpreted the rule correctly. Clearly they saw what I saw, that Cruz purposely went down to end the play. I have seen the rule written two ways, both of which we covered here. But my favourite source for all things football, Peter King over at si.com, had this to say about the play:

According to the rule that applies to this play, a dead ball is declared and the down ended “when a runner is out of bounds, or declares himself down by falling to the ground, or kneeling, and making no effort to advance …” This is a shady play, and a gray-area of a rule. But the way I saw it, Cruz did stop trying to advance the ball, and he was on the ground, and he lay the ball down and began returning to the huddle, which falls under the tenets of this rule. I can’t see how, if replay had been allowed, the referee would have overturned the call anyway.

[Eli] Manning said postgame he saw it as a fumble and rushed to the line to call another play, in case replay was possible. [Tony] Dungy said he could recall 25 plays where this was called a fumble and not ruled that the runner was down. I disagree. The way the rule reads, I believe Cruz was down, had stopped trying to advance the ball, and turned to walk to the huddle.

If Peter King says it, then so it shall be. And I can guarantee Victor Cruz will never let this be an issue again!

Pros

Despite all that, Cruz had another solid performance with six catches for 98 yards. The star of the show this week, however, was Hakeem Nicks who had 10 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown. I was disappointed that Manningham was less of a factor. He clearly isn’t 100 percent, but that will change quickly.

My favorite moments, however, came from Jake Ballard. One of the reasons I was so disappointed that Kevin Boss went to Oakland was because in addition to his strong blocking, he could always be counted on to make the big catches when the team needed them most. He didn’t have the best hands and he could be counted on to drop the ball early in the games, but as he settled down and got into his rhythm, he always made up for those early mistakes in spades. This always resulted in ripping off a big catch and run or two to set up a score, or he himself would get the ball into the endzone. Ballard, late in the game, was a solid receiver for Eli, scoring one touchdown and coming within a yard of a second.

Cons

A lost fumble by Ahmad Bradshaw during the opening drive seemed to hurt the confidence of the run game, which only gained 57 yards all day. I won’t kill Bradshaw for this too much, because this was his first of the season and this is clearly something he has been working on. But he needs to protect the ball at all times, plain and simple.

Eli also lost a fumble toward the end of the third. Again, can’t kill him for this because of how well he has been protecting the ball this season. The real problem here was the Cardinals took advantage of the o-line when David Baas went out to get checked out. The guys coming off the bench have to step up from their first play on and protect the quarterback. No one should be able to run right through the heart of the line and strip the ball so easily.

Pros

One of the things that I continue to admire about the offense is their ability to stay calm under pressure and not panic when things don’t go their way. I credit much of this to Eli, who leads by example in this situation. Yes he lost a fumble which, two plays later, resulted in a Cardinals touchdown. But he came back and led the offense with a 21-point fourth quarter in a come from behind victory. This is the kind of confidence that makes a quarterback, and a leader, elite. A lot of people scoffed when Eli made those comments during the offseason that he considered himself in the same category as Tom Brady. The reality is there will be very few quarterbacks that will be as complete a player as Brady, but the similarities are there. Neither ever panics when they are down, both play their best under pressure, both have a knack for staging late-game heroics, and, this season anyway, both are able to protect the ball by making good decisions. And, let’s not forget who came out on top in Super Bowl XLII. Eli is not Tom Brady, but he doesn’t have to be to be considered an elite quarterback in this league. The season is young, but he is off to a fantastic start.

Bradshaw did not have as quite a dynamic game after his lost fumble, running for only 39 and catching for 11 more, but his biggest run of the day was a 13 yard touchdown to give the Giants their first points of the game. He stepped up when he had to, and while a better game out of him and the rest of the rush offense would have been great, I expect this kind of day will be the exception rather than the norm moving forward.

Cons

I think it’s clear who the leader of the defense is these days: Justin Tuck. This unit was not the same without him in there. Against a more confident quarterback, the lack of pressure would have resulted in a shredded secondary. As it was, Larry Fitzgerald and co. had strong performances. Plus, the Cardinals rush game was stellar, with Beanie Wells ripping off 138 yards and averaging over 5 yards per carry. Missing Tuck in the lineup definitely hurt, and while having Osi back is a great thing, this change meant that JPP had to play on the opposite side. He had a good game, but you could see that he wasn’t quite as explosive as normal. But on the bright side, he is the kind of versatile player that will make the adjustments and play his best. This is, after all, one of the main reasons the Giants drafted him.

Pros

Osi is back, and he made his presence known with two sacks and a forced fumble. Not bad coming off of knee surgery and a host of other health and contract concerns. It’s exciting to think about how great this lineup will be once Tuck is back in there. They do a great job covering up the weaknesses in the secondary.

Speaking of the secondary, it was not their best game but they held their own, and I saw no major regressions. The highlight, of course, was the Antrel Rolle interception. He did a great job of reading the quarterback and stepping in to make the play.

Overall, another solid performance out of the Giants, where they found a way to win despite the setbacks of injuries and mistakes. There was a lot of talk about this trap game, and at times they looked shaky in a way that one would expect coming off of such an emotionally and physically draining game last week. But this is a solid team that continues to improve each week. After two tough road games I am glad they will be home for awhile where they can continue to build up their confidence and, hopefully, get their guys healthy into the bye in a couple weeks, before the more difficult part of their schedule begins.

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