It is hard to imagine that two of the youngest players on a veteran-packed roster emerged as the most valuable members of the New York Giants, but that is what transpired this season. With the injuries mounting and the coaching staff’s job security on the line, Wide Receiver Victor Cruz and Defensive Lineman Jason Pierre Paul came on not only to save the day, but the season as well.
Before last season’s game against the New York Jets during the preseason, very few knew who Victor Cruz was. Even after he torched Rex Ryan’s vaunted defense, he was still considered to be a long shot at making the squad. Then he blew out his knee in the final preseason game and became an after thought as last year’s campaign progressed. After watching this season, aren’t you glad that Big Blue held onto this kid?
There is no doubt that Eli Manning is the team’s Most Valuable Player. However, he would not have experienced the success he did this season if it were not for the play of one Victor Cruz. Cruz became Manning’s primary target, especially after his top two targets, Mario Manningham and Hakim Nicks, played through various injuries. Cruz caught receptions totaling 1,536 yards this season, but that fails to justify what he meant to Big Blue in 2011.
Just look at the last two regular season games, which, for all intents and purposes, were playoffs games. He made game-changing plays in each contest that propelled the Giants to victory. In the Jets game, the Giants were literally back on their heels. They were on their own one-yard line and facing a third and nine. Cruz took an eight-yard slant and turned it into a 99-yard touchdown scant that turned the momentum in Big Blue’s favor. Then he turned around and did the same thing in the Dallas Cowboys game this past weekend, with two big plays that helped the Giants secure the NFC East crown.
On the other side of ball, Cruz’ fellow second year pro Jason Pierre Paul has had just as big of an impact. He leads the Giants with 16.5 sacks. He also has 86 tackles, 65 solo and 21 assisted, along with 2 forced fumbles. But, like Cruz, Paul’s stats fail to signify his significance.
He virtually has become the impact player that Big Blue has been lacking since Michael Strahan retired. With his size and freakish athletic ability, he can play both run and pass. He is capable of bull rushing the quarterback as well as stuffing the run at the line of scrimmage, or chasing running backs downfield. Remember he even blocked that Cowboy’s FG attempt that sealed the victory down in Dallas last month.
Many people questioned General Manager Jerry Reese when he selected Paul last spring. No one is questioning the move now. Not only did it give Big Blue depth along the defensive line, which helped them survive Osi Umenyiora’s injuries, but it also allowed Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell to move Justin Tuck to the defensive end position, where he could really do some damage. I know that Mark Sanchez and Tony Romo wished that Reese never heard of Jason Pierre Paul.
When Reese selected Paul and brought in Cruz, very few thought that they would have the impact that they have had, especially this early in their careers. Nevertheless, they have become a huge part of Big Blue’s success this season and they are an integral reason why the Giants are NFC East Division Champs.