Tag:Victor Cruz
Posted on: February 18, 2012 7:31 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2012 7:32 pm
 

No performance-based pay for players in 2011

Despite Cruz's breakout season, there will be no performance-based paychecks in his immediate future. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Unlike 2002-2009, there will be no performance-based pay for NFL players following the 2011 season, NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis told the Newark Star-Ledger this week. This was also the case in 2010's uncapped season and the ramifications mean this: guys like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz will earn their base salaries for last season and not a dime more based on on-field contributions.

"Francis wrote in an email that money has been allocated elsewhere to overall salaries and benefits following the lockout and the agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement," the Star-Ledger's Mike Garalo wrote Friday. "One example of where such money has been redirected was the $3-million salary-cap exemption teams received to keep veterans this past season. This season, teams will have three $1.5-million exemptions.

"According to Francis, performance-based pay is a part of the new CBA and will be paid out in the future, though the league and the union are 'still negotiating the language.'"

In 2009, the last year for performance-based pay, Vikings center John Sullivan was rewarded with a $397,555 bonus (his base salary: $385,000) and Giants cornerback Bruce Johnson earned an extra $270,766.

Nicks, in the third year of his rookie deal, made a base salary of $575,000 in 2011. Cruz, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010, made just $405,000. (The Freakonomics blog breaks down an entire team of players who outperformed their current contracts.)

Performance-based pay was a means of rewarding low-salaried players based on productivity. And while five or six-figure checks may not mean much for guys pulling down tens of millions annually, it's a huge deal for young players making league minimum or close to it. But the system hasn't been abolished entirely; in fact, as PFT points out, the new collective-bargaining agreement explains that the fund will exist “[i]n each year League Year after the 2011 League Year.”

Which is good news for (relatively) low wage earners in 2012, less so for the Freakonomics' Dough Bowl All-Stars.

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Posted on: February 9, 2012 5:23 pm
Edited on: February 9, 2012 6:10 pm
 

Victor Cruz: 'I deserve to be paid more money'

CruzBy Josh Katzowitz

In real-life standards, making $490,000 is a pretty decent salary. In the world of pro football, it’s more like a “meh” financial reward, almost the definition of entry-level pay. For an outgoing wide receiver who was virtually unknown before this season and then exploded with an 82-catch, 1,536-yard, nine-touchdown performance and became known as the guy who salsa dances after he scores, it’s an outrage.

Well, not really an outrage, but after his glorious season that ended with a touchdown catch in the Giants Super Bowl XLVI win against the Patriots, Victor Cruz  -- who made $450,000 in 2011 -- would like a substantial raise for 2012.

“I think I was paid, you know, relative to where I came in this year and, you know, I came in as a free agent so that’s the salary I was on, so I don’t feel like I was underpaid,” Cruz told the men at Pro Football Talk. “I mean, I feel like after my performance this year, you know, I feel like I deserve to be paid more money at this point.  But that’s something I’ll let my agents and those people take care of and I’ll just go out there and play the game.”

I don’t think many people would disagree that Cruz deserves more money after his 2011 performance, but remember, he signed a three-year $1.2 million contract after he went unselected in the 2010 draft. He missed all of last season with an injury, so it's not like Cruz has put together multiple seasons of consistency.

NFL Offseason Begins
Also, you have to remember the players who had breakout seasons and demanded more money from their teams and never got it. Players like Sidney Rice, Matt Forte and DeSean Jackson. Just because Cruz had one wonderful season, that doesn’t mean the Giants have to give him a bigger raise than they’d already planned. And considering New York has a powerful receiving corps, is Cruz holding out in training camp really going to scare the Giants into tearing up his old contract and giving him a new one? I’d guess no.

But in other Cruz news, it’s also been reported that he signed with the powerful IMG agency after the Super Bowl. That won’t increase his ability to barter for a new deal with the Giants, because IMG was hired to work on his marketing and endorsement campaigns (I see either a marketing campaign for Tostitos salsa or for Fred Astaire Dance Studios, though considering Cruz turned down “Dancing with the Stars,” he might like to go less mainstream).

However, adding IMG means Cruz most likely will make more money this year. And if that money doesn’t come from the Giants, Cruz might have to be OK with that.

In even more Cruz news, he weighed in on the laughable “Rob Gronkowski was dancing with his shirt off after the Patriots lost” controversy. Cruz, it seems, disagrees with the spirit of what Gronkowski was doing.

“I would have been in my room, watching TV, soaking in the moment,” Cruz told PFT. “It’s not every day you make it to a Super Bowl, man. . . . Some guys play 15, 16 years in this league and don’t make it the Super Bowl. Or even the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. . . . I probably wouldn’t have been partying too much after that.”

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Posted on: February 9, 2012 11:08 am
 

Brady told O'Brien he threw ball away on safety

Hard to blame Brady for throwing it away. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Much ado's been made about the safety on the first Patriots offensive play of the game in the Super Bowl last Sunday -- Tom Brady threw the ball to no one while standing in his own end zone. But was intentional grounding the right call? And did some receiver mess up a route that caused Brady to throw the ball where he did?

Turns out, no. Brady actually was throwing it away. On the Sound FX portion of NFL Replay, NFL Films caught Brady telling (former) offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien that he did in fact throw it away after first trying to find Rob Gronkowski, then Wes Welker and finally feeling heat from Justin Tuck.

"I looked to Gronk, I looked to Wes, he dropped and then I felt [Tuck]," Brady said. "I had no place to throw it away. I threw it over his head. I didn't want to throw an interception."

So it's a pretty clear case of intentional grounding, provided Brady was in the pocket (he was) and therefore a clear safety provided Brady was in the end zone (he was). That didn't stop Bill Belichick from arguing the call with referee John Parry through.

Sound FX picked up Belichick calling Parry over and saying "The intentional grounding call ..."

"What's the problem with it?" Parry replied.

"He had a guy coming in there -- he didn't throw it to him. But he had a guy that was coming in there," Belichick said. "I mean, damn."

There are four parts up on NFL.com (if you don't have NFL Network) and all are worth watching. As we noted earlier on Thursday, one clip shows Belichick telling his defense to stifle Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and "make" the Giants find Mario Manningham on their final drive.

Unfortunately for Belichick, that worked out about as well as his attempt to argue that Brady didn't throw the ball away.

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Posted on: February 9, 2012 9:17 am
Edited on: February 9, 2012 9:44 am
 

Belichick at SB: 'Make em go to Manningham'

Eli didn't mind going to Manningham. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

It's always fascinating to see how NFL sausage is made: Sound FX and NFL replays do just that. There's a particularly interesting nugget from Sunday's Super Bowl that occurred in between "The Drop" by Wes Welker and "The Catch XLVI" by Mario Manningham.

Bill Belichick, talking to the Patriots defense, told them how to handle pass protection. He wanted them to bottle up Giants wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks and "make 'em go to Manningham."

"This is still a Cruz and Nicks game," Belichick said on the sideline. "I mean, I know we're right on 'em. It's tight. But those are still the guys. Make 'em go to Manningham. Make 'em go to Pascoe. Alright? Let's make sure we get Cruz and Nicks."

You know how this works out, right? Not well: Eli Manning slung a teardrop towards the Patriots sideline that Manningham somehow managed to real in ... right in front of Belichick. Belichick challenged and lost.

"He caught it," a dejected Tom Brady said in the Sound FX video.

Thought not for any real fault of either Belichick or his defensive backs. Manning got what he admitted was a bad look at Manningham (after he looked to Cruz and Nicks, who were covered) and just made an unbelievable throw into an unbelievably tight window. I can still see the ball in the air when I try to envision it. There's no way he should've completed that pass.

And it's probably a matchup that Belichick would take again.

H/T: Ultimate NYG

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Posted on: February 6, 2012 12:12 am
Edited on: February 6, 2012 12:15 am
 

Sorting the SB Pile: New York wideouts are giant

Posted by Will Brinson

Manningham's toe-tapping changed the momentum of the game. (AP)

Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and, um, sorts through it for you. The big story, winners and losers and sometimes fancy moving pictures. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter.

The Turning Point

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL might be a quarterbacks league, but if you don't think the guys catching the passes are the most important players on an NFL roster these days, you need to re-think your approach to what constitutes a truly dangerous team. Look no further than Mario Manningham, who's insanely difficult catch on the first play of the Giants final drive sparked New York to its second Super Bowl victory in five years.

"That was the turning point," fellow wideout Hakeem Nicks said about Manningham's catch. "Mario comes up in clutch situations time in and time out throughout these playoffs and that was just another time of him showcasing that."

Manningham, who had a down regular season but made huge catches in recent games, simply "wasn't going to let the ball go."

"I knew I had to freeze my feet when the ball touched my fingertips," Manningham said. "Wherever I was at when the ball hit my fingertips, I just froze my feet and fell. I knew I was either going to get hit or hit the ground. I knew something was going to happen but that I couldn't let that ball go."

He didn't and the Giants were able to march 88 yards the field to score. What makes it particularly impressive is that the Patriots forced Manningham and Nicks to step up by blanketing the salsa-dancing Victor Cruz after his touchdown catch in the first quarter.

That's why Manning, even though was facing a Cover-2 look from the Pats secondary and didn't have a good window to work the ball in. But he trusted Manningham, found a look, stepped up and made a big-boy throw in the biggest moment on the biggest possible stage.

"Usually that is not your best match-up," Manning said afterward. "I looked that way. I saw I had the safety cheated in a little bit and threw it down the sideline. Great catch by [Manningham], keeping both feet in. That's a huge play in the game right there, when you're backed up, to get a 40-yard gain and get to the middle of field."

This isn't to say that Manning wouldn't be great without his wideouts. He would. He's a great quarterback and he played like it, particularly on that final drive and the start of the game, when Manning kicked things off by going 10 for 10.

"We notice," Nicks said of the quarterback's start. "We notice everything. We notice when he's clicking. We know when we have to step up and get the job done. Our hard work that we put in through the week and in practice and in film room just paid off."

Manningham's catch was ridiculous; but more than anything it's a microcosm of how much these wideouts meant to the Giants during their run.

Cruz carried New York at times during the regular season. Manningham scored a touchdown in the first three playoff games. How about Nicks? He only finished the season with 28 catches, 444 receiving yards and four touchdowns ... in the playoffs. The catches

Nicks was nearly unstoppable on Sunday in Indy, making big catch after big catch in traffic, going up for slightly overthrown balls and reeling them in, including a pair of critical grabs on the final drive.

"You just address [the fourth quarter] like any other time," Nicks said. "We knew what we were capable of doing. We knew we could come through in clutch situations."

That's what they did, and it should look familiar. It's the same formula that the Packers used last year when they toppled the Steelers. Nicks and Cruz are actually better than Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. And Jordy Nelson had a superior year in 2011 to Manningham, but his 2010 season (45 catches, 582 yards), followed by a postseason full of big catches is eerily reminiscent of the year Manningham (39 catches, 523 yards) just had.

"I think we as an offense have been very, very successful," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said afterwards. "Certainly the trigger-man's got to do his job. I think collectively the receivers have really stepped up, made some tremendous plays. Mario did it tonight, but it's been either Victor or Hakeem. Somebody as made some big plays, so as a group, they expect to do well. They expect to put it in the end zone."

Take it back two more years and look at the defending champions -- the Steelers and the Saints -- and you have talented wide receiving corps making catches on a huge stage.

The Patriots, like the Steelers before them, didn't have enough bodies to cover the weapons offered by their opponent. They decided to shut down the Giants top option -- Cruz -- and got torched by Nicks and Manningham.

It's the definition of sound roster-building. Given all the hype surrounding the Pats tight ends in 2011, it's particularly ironic that the Giants receivers were the key to beating the Patriots. Or maybe it's just proper NFL evolution.

Winners

Eli Manning: He has two Super Bowls and these are not backdoor-luck wins either. The 2007 victory might've been defensively-based, but the win doesn't happen if Eli doesn't make some monster plays. On Sunday, he truly propelled himself into a rare class of quarterback; with less than four minutes to go and 88 yards to move the ball, Eli, quite simply, got it done. The receivers helped, of course, but he made huge plays.

Tom Coughlin
: Homeboy is 5-1 in his career against Belichick and has two Super Bowl wins in the last five years. Eight weeks ago? He was on the freaking hot seat. Now he's probably headed to the Hall of Fame if he can coach another three to four strong years in New York. If he wants, he can coach there forever, regardless of what ignorant and impatient fans say amid losing streaks. Two Super Bowls is the equivalent of a lifetime contract in the NFL.

Mario Manningham
: Manningham didn't make every single catch, and he wasn't as good as Hakeem Nicks on Sunday night, but he had five catches for 73 yards and none were more important than a toe-tapping 38-yard catch along the Patriots sideline late in the fourth quarter. With 3:46 left on the clock and down two points, the Giants took a shot, Manning made a big-boy throw and Manningham made an absolutely insane catch along the sidelines. Not only did it totally flip momentum and give the Giants better field position, but it forced Bill Belichick to burn a timeout to challenge the play.

NFL Honors: Awards shows are ticking timebombs stuffed with potential disaster. Which is what makes it so impressive that the NFL pulled of a polished, professional, tidy and entertaining one-hour special that managed to dole out all the big end-of-year awards in impressive fashion. The only question is: what took so long?

Indianapolis: The city of Indy isn't supposed to be a great location for a Super Bowl, but the town gets an A+ from us for their effort in Super Bowl 46. Things were a little rowdy and crowded downtown over the weekend and I could've dealt with a few less bag checks, but it's hard to give Indy other than a gargantuan round of applause for the way they set up and ran the Super Bowl. Everyone was courteous, the weather was wonderful, people running hotels and restaurants adapted to surging crowds. (Even the people in Indy got quotes to the press box faster than Dallas did.) Sunday night's game -- and absolutely thriller -- was the perfect cap to a well-run weekend.

It's a crippling Super Bowl loss for Belichick and Brady. (AP)

Losers

Tom Brady: There's not much difference between 4-1 and 3-2. It's just one game. But if Brady was 4-1 in Super Bowls, we'd be talking about him as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Instead, some people will label Brady as "the guy who couldn't beat Eli on the big stage." Travel back in time to January of 2008 and inform someone of that information. They'll laugh at you and double down on their monster bet on the Patriots the first time these teams met up. Brady's an all-time gamer, for sure. No one can take away three Super Bowls. But it's going to be hard to win an argument where you claim he's the GOAT.

Ahmad Bradshaw: The first loser to ever score a game-winning touchdown, Bradshaw scored what might be the weirdest TD in NFL history. (See: below.) He took the handoff, started doing what he's done thousands of times in his life and ran up the middle. Only he wasn't supposed to score. He did anyway, falling into the end zone and giving Brady nearly a minute left on the clock to attempt a comeback. It would be awkward to be him if Brady had completed the Hail Mary.

Bill Belichick: Maybe it was just karma for cutting Tiquan Underwood?

Madonna: When Mrs. Brinson is texting me to tell me how boring the Super Bowl halftime show was, that's not a good thing. And look, Madonna was big time and I know a lot of people enjoyed the show, but she lip-synched most of it, played one song that no one really likes, and another that no one knows. You're not here pimping your new album. Play the stuff people want. All that was missing from that fiasco was a painting of Alex Rodriguez as a centaur.

Peyton Manning: Peyton's not a huge loser, because he gets to celebrate his brother winning a second Super Bowl. That's cool stuff. I'd be pumped if my brother won a second Super Bowl. Actually, I take that back. If I was an NFL quarterback and my brother was an NFL quarterback and he had one more Super Bowl than me, I'd be furious, and probably a little bitter. And if it so happened that I was dealing with a neck injury, I'd probably be pretty motivated to catch him.

GIF O' THE WEEK


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Posted on: February 5, 2012 10:01 pm
Edited on: February 5, 2012 11:48 pm
 

Manning, again, beats the Pats when it counts

C. Blackburn's interception of Tom Brady helped change the game for New York (Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com)
By Josh Katzowitz

INDIANAPOLIS – Eli Manning did it again.

Four years ago, Manning proved he was one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the game, leading the Giants to the shell-shocking Super Bowl victory against the undefeated Patriots, and at Super Bowl XLVI, he cemented himself as one of the most-elite signal-callers in the game.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Manning is an all-timer, maybe a future Hall of Famer. Maybe not quite as good as brother Peyton. But Peyton only has one Super Bowl ring. Now, his younger brother has two.

Losing for most of the second half, Manning, with 3:46 to play, led the Giants on a nine-play, 88-yard drive to pull off the 21-17 upset of the Patriots.
Eli Manning was the Super Bowl MVP (AP)

Once again, Manning beat Tom Brady in the final game of the season. Once again, Giants coach Tom Coughlin knocked off New England’s Bill Belichick in the most-important contest of the year. Once again, Manning needed to be clutch in the final minutes with his team trailing the favored Patriots, and yes, once again, Manning delivered the victory.

Not surprisingly, he was the Super Bowl MVP and led a 9-7 team to the NFL title -- the first time that's ever happened.

While there were no David Tyree moments -- not one receiver caught the ball off his helmet -- Manning’s first throw of the final drive was a 38-yard pass to Mario Manningham that advanced the ball to midfield. From there, it was a 16-yard pass to Manningham, a two-yard throw to Manningham and a 14-yard throw to Hakeem Nicks.

After a seven-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw, Manning completed a four-yard pass to Nicks to set up the Giants game-winning score.

But here was a potential problem: with 57 seconds remaining, the Patriots simply allowed New York to score a touchdown so they’d get the ball back, and though Bradshaw tried to stop himself, his momentum carried him into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown.

"These guys never quit," Manning told NBC's Dan Patrick on the field afterward. "We had great faith in each other. ... It just feels good to win a Super Bowl, no matter where we are."

On fourth and 16 deep in his own territory, Brady kept the game alive by throwing a first-down ball to Deion Branch. After back-to-back incompletions, Brady took the final snap of the game with 5 seconds to play, and though his Hail Mary attempt was batted around in the end zone, it fell harmlessly to the turf to seal the Giants win.

For the first 26 minutes of the second half, the Patriots were in control of the game and seemed likely to get New England its first Super Bowl title since 2004.
Ahmad Bradshaw tried to stop himself from falling into the end zone but ultimately couldn't. (AP)

Many of the pregame storylines -- the Giants were going to pick on the Patriots secondary all night, New England’s offense would be much less dynamic without a completely-healthy Rob Gronkowski and the New York defense would spook Tom Brady once again -- hadn’t panned out.

Instead, after falling behind 9-0 in the first quarter, Brady was fantastic on the final drive of the first half, completing all 10 of his passes. Though Jason Pierre-Paul stuffed Danny Woodhead on second and goal from the 3 for a 1-yard loss, Brady, with all kinds of time provided by his offensive line, found Woodhead for the four-yard touchdown pass to give New England a 10-9 lead at halftime.

The 14-play, 96-yard drive tied a Super Bowl record for longest drive, and that momentum continued in to the third quarter. Though Madonna elongated halftime with her mostly-panned performance, the Patriots came out hot in the second half, as Brady went 6-for-6 on the first drive of the third quarter and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Except for his performance in the first half, New England's offense struggled behind Tom Brady. (AP)
On those two game-turning drives, Brady was 16 of 16 for 154 yards and two touchdowns, and he proved that many of those pregame prognostications were inaccurate.

Except the Patriots offense didn’t do much of anything else after that.

Gronkowski, like we thought, wasn’t much of a factor except as a decoy and a blocking tight end. Even with the best tight end in the game suffering from a high ankle sprain, New England’s offense, especially went it went to no-huddle, was dynamic enough in the middle of the game. Brady did try to go deep to Gronkowski early in the fourth quarter, but Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn intercepted him.

But after that strong output in the drives sandwiching intermission -- Brady completed a Super Bowl-record 16-straight passes -- New York’s defense stopped the Patriots.

The Giants couldn’t have had a better start defensively after the Patriots forced a punt and New York punter Steve Weatherford dropped a kick at the New England 6. On the first Patriots play from scrimmage, Giants defensive end Justin Tuck got good pressure, and Brady released the ball across the middle of the field before he took the hit.

But officials penalized him for intentional grounding, and since Brady was in the end zone when he threw the ball, it was ruled a safety to give New York a 2-0 lead -- the second time this postseason the Giants had opened a game with a safety.

Giants 21, Patriots 17
On the next drive, Manning, who started the game 9 of 9 for 77 yards and a touchdown, found Victor Cruz for the 2-yard score to give New York a nine-point advantage. At that point, New York had run 17 plays to the Patriots total of 1.

But toward the end of the second quarter, the Patriots started playing better.

Still, the Giants kept themselves in the game. Even though New York fumbled three times, they managed to recover two of them and the other was wiped out by a Patriots penalty. After falling behind 17-9, Lawrence Tynes kicked a 38-yard and a 33-yard field goal in the third quarter to cut the lead to 17-15.

After the game, Coughlin was asked by NBC to talk about how he matched the Super Bowl total of his mentor, Bill Parcells.

Said Coughlin: "I'm not about comparisions."

Fair enough, but we know enough to say this. Coughlin shouldn't ever have to worry about his job security in New York again, and Eli Manning never should have to worry about being overshadowed by his brother.

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Posted on: January 18, 2012 5:20 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2012 12:16 pm
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Giants NFC CG preview

Can Smith and Harbaugh work some more magic Sunday? (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

These teams gave us a very good game back in Week 10 from which we came away truly believing for the first time that San Francisco’s old school style might actually still work in today’s pass-happy NFL. However, not much can be drawn on from that game, as the Giants were without Ahmad Bradshaw, hadn’t yet gelled on the O-line and were still trying to figure things out in their defensive back seven.

New York is healthy now and, as you’ve undoubtedly heard a thousand times, “playing with confidence”. Confidence does not breed success, it stems from success. Simply put, the Giants are a much better football team this time around.


1. Tougher task for Alex Smith
Alex Smith’s fourth quarter heroics last week might have been career-changing, at least pertaining to his public image. But lost in the excitement was the fact that Smith and his teammates struggled somewhat to identify blitzes throughout most of the contest.

And, until the final few minutes, Smith wasn’t comfortable against heavy coverage in the red zone. He caught fire once he started recognizing the one-on-one matchups for Vernon Davis BEFORE the snap (which wasn’t hard against the Saints’ Cover 0’s). Thus, after the snap, he didn’t have to worry about making the right decision – he just had to worry about throwing a good ball.  (To his credit, he did this extremely well.)

This week, Smith will have to worry about both. Given the mediocrity of San Francisco’s offensive tackles, the Giants’ four-man rush should be able to get pressure and force the Niners to keep backs and tight ends in to block (or at least chip). When the Giants do blitz, it’s usually a zone pass-rushing concept involving a linebacker (see Michael Boley’s two sacks at Green Bay).

Thus, all game Smith will be throwing into a more crowded secondary and without quickly defined reads. Unless Joe Staley and Anthony Davis play the game of their lives, Smith will also be throwing under some duress. Post-snap decision-making from a crowded pocket has always been Smith’s greatest weakness.

As he’s done all season, Jim Harbaugh will ameliorate Smith’s deficiencies by giving him simplified quick throws off three-step drops, utilizing play-action and, perhaps, calling throws on first down (where the coverages tend to be more basic). The Niners did this with great success in Week 10. In fact, they did it was great success throughout the season; Smith’s passer rating on first down was 101.6.

But at some point, just like last week, Smith is going to have to make a big-time throw in an obvious passing situation.


After dominating the Green Bay Packers last week, the New York Giants will travel to Candlestick Park to square off against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. Join NFL.com's Pat Kirwan and Jason Horowitz as they break down this matchup.

2. Smith’s targets
Smith isn’t the only passing game contributor who faces a tougher challenge this week. Michael Crabtree will likely be shadowed by Corey Webster, an outstanding all-around cover corner. Because Crabtree isn’t fast enough to run away from most corners, he has to beat them with body control and agility. Often, his best routes drag over the middle. When his routes go inside, it’s easy for the Giants to give Webster help (not that he needs much).

Smith’s top target, Vernon Davis, won’t be facing Roman Harper or Malcolm Jenkins in man coverage. Instead, he’ll go against Antrel Rolle, a more athletic cover artist whom the Arizona Cardinals originally drafted in the first round as a cornerback (the Saints drafted Jenkins as a corner, as well, but after a year they admitted what had been apparent from Day One: the stiff-hipped ex-Buckeye was better suited for safety).

And unlike last week, Davis won’t have just one defender to beat, as it’s highly unlikely the Giants will play only man and have Rolle constantly defend the 250-pound tight end one-on-one.

3. Gotta make it Gorey
Expect the run-first Niners to go back to the ground this week. Frank Gore got just 13 carries against New Orleans; he needs at least 22 against New York. If Gore can pound the rock against Perry Fewell’s big nickel defense (two linebackers, two safeties and Rolle playing a utility role as a third safety/linebacker/slot corner), the Giants may decide to go back to their base 4-3.

That would make for a less athletic front seven and present a greater possibility for Davis to draw matchups against linebackers.

Let’s keep it simple and also remember that, regardless of what the defense is doing, running is San Francisco’s bread and butter. They’re built around the power run, with booming and mobile left guard Mike Iupati pulling to the right of Pro Bowl center Jonathan Goodwin and working in unison with lead-blockers Bruce Miller and Justin Peelle (or Delanie Walker if he can get healthy).

That’s the formula that got this team here. And it happens to be the formula that can keep New York’s white hot quarterback off the field.

4. Giants passing game
New York’s rushing attack is nowhere near as dreadful as it was in September, October and November, but against the league’s stingiest run defense, it still can’t be counted on. The Giants will have to ride the golden right arm of Eli Manning. He isn’t facing a porous pass defense like he did a week ago. San Francisco has three corners who can stay with New York’s frighteningly athletic wide receivers.

In the last meeting, Carlos Rogers was sensational defending the slot, making a handful of great jumps on the ball and finishing with two interceptions. Rogers is good enough to handle Victor Cruz.

What really stood out in the first divisional round game was how well the Niner defensive backs – particularly safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner – tackled. Considering the DB’s penchant for forcing fumbles, the Giants may be hesitant to put Hakeem Nicks and Cruz in the catch-and-run situations that they enjoy.

5. San Fran’s defensive line
The 49ers were able to break down the Giants’ pass protection in the last meeting, but again, this Giants line has improved immensely since then.

Still, Aldon Smith, with his explosive first step and startlingly quick hands, is a nightmare matchup for David Diehl on the left side, while Kareem McKenzie will need a little help against the speed of Ahmad Brooks on the right. Then there’s Justin Smith, who makes four or five fantastic penetrative plays a game.

In addition to rushing the passer, the Niners’ front three/four is fast and athletic enough to hunt down screen passes outside the numbers. That’s assuming Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman don’t hunt them down first.

Against this dynamic front seven, the Giants won’t be able to count heavily on Ahmad Bradshaw or ancillary options like Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum. Manning and his wide receivers will have to find ways to make big plays.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the Championship games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 6, 2012 4:59 pm
 

Victor Cruz turns down 'Dancing With the Stars'

By Will Brinson

Victor Cruz made a name for himself this season by piling up ridiculous receiving stats and emerging as the Giants biggest weapon in the passing game (even if he did get passed over for a first-team All-Pro award).

He also made enough waves with his trademark post-touchdown Salsa dance that he was invited on "Dancing With the Stars."

However, according to our Giants Rapid Reporter Alex Raskin, the wideout turned down the show's offer.

"I kind of knew it was coming, but you don't really know until it comes," Cruz said Friday, via Newsday. "I just want to be focused on football and focused on what's to come and I'm just not at the point in my career where I feel like I need to do that."

It's a smart move by Cruz, considering that he's not exactly sitting on a monster contract. He makes under $500,000 and won't become a free agent until after 2013.

Not only could he get hurt, but treating football as priority No. 1 will go a long way towards showing the Giants he's serious about improving his game, justifying his 2011 season and the belief that he's developing into one of the top receivers in the game.

Besides, if Cruz performs in the playoffs and 2012 at the same level as he did on 2011, then he'll be too big-time to even worry about DTWS.


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