The Eagles are not taking the Giants lightly
Eli Manning and Victor Cruz have connected on nine touchdowns of 60 yards or more in 36 games together. (USA Today Images)
The Giants are bad. Really bad. Only two NFL teams are scoring fewer points and nobody is allowing more points. Even the Eagles.
The Giants have scored one touchdown in their last two games. They’re 0-4 for the first time in a non-strike season since 1979. They’re being outscored by an average of three touchdowns per game.
Looking for positives?
They still have Eli Manning to Victor Cruz.
Manning-to-Cruz is one of the deadliest deep-ball combos in NFL history, and it’s one of the Eagles’ biggest concerns on Sunday.
Manning and Cruz have connected on nine touchdowns of 60 yards or more in the span of just 36 games. That’s one every four games they’ve played together and already sixth most in NFL history and by far most among active players. Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson is next with six.
“Victor’s a great receiver, Eli’s a great quarterback, and they work really well together,” Eagles safety Nate Allen said. “They’ve been together for a little bit now, they know each other, they know the offense well.
“You know they want to hit those deep balls, and we have to make sure we don’t let Vic behind us. We’re going to have to be disciplined. He’s really quick off the line, hard to get something on him, hard to jam him. But we feel like we’ll have some good stuff for him. We’ll be ready.”
Eagles fans will remember the first Manning-to-Cruz deep ball. It was Sept. 25, 2011, at the Linc, and Cruz at that point was an unknown, undrafted scrub.
He had just two career catches for 17 yards.
But with the Giants leading 7-0, Manning lobbed an out to Cruz at the left sideline. The wide receiver broke away from Kurt Coleman at the 34-yard line, then Coleman and Nnamdi Asomugha collided trying to tackle Cruz near midfield, allowing him to zip down the left sideline for a 74-yard touchdown.
Welcome to the NFL.
The Giants went on to win 29-16 on their way to another Super Bowl championship, and the Eagles have won just 12 games since.
And Cruz has gone on to become one of the great deep-ball threats in NFL history.
Only three receivers -- who all played in the 1960s or before -- had more touchdowns of at least 60 yards than Cruz before their 27th birthday.
“Eli throws a great deep ball,” said slot corner Brandon Boykin, who will be on Cruz much of the day Sunday. “He’s been struggling this year with turnovers, but you can watch the film and see where he’s throwing perfect deep balls, so the way to defend it is to play things top down.
“They like to go deep, but I’ve seen times where he’s about to get sacked, and he just launches it down the field. That pass rush that teams have been getting on him has been hurting him and not allowing him to get the ball down the field probably as much as he wants to. So our pass rush can stop it and just us being on top of everything.
“Especially in their three-receiver sets. They do a lot of receiver switches, which probably tries to get a pick, then throw it deep.”
Cruz has been an Eagles killer, with three 100-yard games already against Philly in just two seasons. He has 22 catches for 399 yards and five touchdowns in just four career games against the Eagles.
Even though Cruz is only in his third season playing on offense (he didn’t have a catch as a rookie in 2010), he’s only one game shy of the record for most career 100-yard performances against the Eagles, a mark shared by Plaxico Burress, Gary Clark, Bobby Hayes, Bobby Mitchell, Lance Rentzel and Jason Witten.
“Eli is one of the best deep-ball throwers,” Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. “He throws a beautiful fade ball or deep ball down the sideline, and Victor Cruz, that's part of what they do well. We have a huge challenge. It's a matter of staying on the top shoulder of the receivers and making sure we're in [an] advantageous position on the deep ball.”
The Eagles go into their game Sunday against Manning, Cruz and the Giants with the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense and 32nd-ranked overall defense in terms of yards allowed.
They’re on pace to allow more yards than any team in NFL history, but although the Giants are having issues of their own -- they’ve scored only 61 points in four games -- Cruz is having another big season, with 25 catches for 425 yards.
He already has three 100-yard games and four touchdowns, including a 70-yarder against the Cowboys and a 69-yarder against the Chiefs.
Since 2011, Cruz has nine TDs of 60 yards or more and only one other receiver in the NFL [Julio Jones with five] has more than three.
If the Eagles can get some pressure on Manning, who’s already been sacked 14 times, it will go a long way toward making the task of covering Cruz a little easier for the Eagles’ struggling defensive backs.
“It starts up front with pressure, get pressure on the quarterback, making him make erratic decisions and in the back end, we have to stay deep in our coverage and not let anything get behind us,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.
“It’s a combination of everything -- underneath guys getting deeper in zones, deep guys staying deep and making sure everything’s in front of us.
“We have to get to him. We have to put pressure on him. Eli can make all the throws. He’s a Super Bowl MVP, great quarterback, but we have to rattle him. Get him off his spot and make him make a decision he doesn’t want to make. We have to hit him when we got the chance.”