By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – The film the Detroit Lions defense watched this week in preparation for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants included a fairly hefty helping of one player in particular.
“It’s a lot of Victor Cruz,” Lions linebacker Ashlee Palmer said. “It’s a lot of Victor Cruz. He’s a big part of their offense … That’s Eli [Manning]’s main guy. Eli, I’m pretty sure he works with his other guys in practice, but you know how as a quarterback you have that one guy that you have that most chemistry with.”
Only one problem for the Giants: Cruz, on pace for a 1,000-yard season, has been lost for the year’s final two games.
Hurt in New York’s recent game against the Seattle Seahawks – a shutout of the Giants – Cruz has been ruled out and had surgery, with the renowned Dr. James Andrews performing an arthroscopic debridement of his knee Thursday.
The absence of Cruz could be rough for New York, particularly for quarterback Eli Manning, one of few NFL quarterbacks with more picks than Detroit’s Matthew Stafford.
“With him losing that, I’m not saying he doesn’t trust his other guys as much, but he’ll have to put a lot of faith in them to make up the slack,” Palmer said. “The other guys just have to step up, and hopefully they don’t.”
Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham did not explain how he believed the game might change without Cruz, but he cautioned that Cruz is not the only one to whom Manning can throw.
“[Cruz] is the catalyst on that team, but they have some good receivers,” Cunningham said. “Eli knows how to get the ball to them, spread it out. Obviously [the loss of Cruz is] going to hamper him some. How much, I don’t know yet.”
Cruz led the receiving corps with 998 yards on 73 catches, but Hakeem Nicks, with 794 yards on 50 catches, has also produced well for New York. Reuben Randle has added 37 catches for 571, and Brandon Myers has 41 for 460.
Replacing Cruz specifically has been third-year player Jerrel Jernigan. After coming in for Cruz against Seattle, Jernigan caught seven of eight passes thrown to him for 67 yards.
“He’s a good slot player,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. “[Losing Cruz] probably affects them more in their two receiver packages than their three receiver packages, but Nicks is a big receiver on the outside. Randle is a second-rounder that has been productive for them. Jernigan comes in and plays the slot for them.
“[Cruz] was obviously their top receiver, but they still have a lot of other guys that catch the ball,” Schwartz added. “Eli does move the ball around to a lot of different guys also.”
Though those other receivers seem more than capable of filling the void left by Cruz, it is worth noting that even with Cruz the offense of the Giants (5-9) ranked just 28th in the NFL in yards per game and 30th in points per game.