November 7, 2012 7:02 PM
Manning, WRs do training camp one-on-one drills in midseason practice

BY Ebenezer Samuel

Eli Manning dropped back and watched Victor Cruz working against a single cornerback on an empty football field. Manning delivered a throw in rhythm. And then he did it again, as another receiver worked one-on-one against another corner.

And again. And again. And again.

It’s a simple one-on-one drill that performed regularly in training camps. But this is what it’s come down to for the Giants’ struggling aerial attack. On Tuesday, coach Tom Coughlin met with Manning to discuss the team’s recent offensive doldrums. And then on Wednesday, midway through the regular season, the Giants took a mid-practice break from their preparations for Sunday’s game against the Bengals to work through a training camp drill.

“We just threw it in,” wideout Victor Cruz said. “Once the season starts, we normally don’t do that as much as in training camp. We just threw it in there, just to get some timing down.”

It’s all because a high-flying air attack has been grounded for the better part of four games. Since his 259-yard, three-TD effort against the Browns on Oct. 7, Manning has averaged just 211.8 passing yards per game. He’s thrown just two touchdown passes against four interceptions in his last four games, gradually falling off after a brilliant start to the season.

The nadir came on Sunday against the Steelers. Manning passed for 125 yards, his lowest full-game total since he threw for 111 yards against the Bills on Dec. 23, 2007, and Cruz and Hakeem Nicks combined for 77 receiving yards, the second straight week that they managed less than 100 yards.

Manning’s meeting with Coughlin was simple, the coach said, and the two discussed “fundamentals and about getting us going.”

“Just how to get back on track, get back to playing at a high level,” Manning added. “Both of us want the same thing, for our offense to get back rolling and start scoring some points.”

Thing is, opponents have learned how to contain Cruz and Nicks. A season ago, they were arguably the league’s most unstoppable pairing of receivers. Both players topped 1,000 yards; the only other wideout tandem to pull that off was Pittsburgh’s duo of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.

But this season, foot and knee woes continue to prevent Nicks from operating at full speed, and even Cruz admitted that the Giants are “just waiting for him to get healthy and we’ll be all right.” And defenses respect Cruz and Nicks so much that they’re double-covering both guys this season, at the risk of leaving other Giants open.

“That means that somebody, whether it be the tight end or that third receiver, they’re gonna have some one-on-one coverage,” Cruz said. “Teams are gambling.”

And since the Week 7 win over the Cowboys, opponents are also being aggressive with Cruz and Nicks at the line. Cruz said he now sees regular bump-and-run coverage even when he lines up in the slot, and the extra jostling has changed many of the reads that Manning makes.

When Cruz and Manning are on the same page, as they were on their 77-yard game-winning TD against the Redskins three weeks ago, the Giants passing attack still seems brilliant.

But too often, Cruz said, they haven’t been.

“Sometimes, it’s just a miscue, where the receiver may be running in and Eli thinks he’s sitting down,” Cruz said. “Once we know each other’s body language more and more, we’ll be OK.”

“I’ve gotta read the body language of the receivers,” Manning added.

Wednesday’s drill was supposed to help with that. Six Giants receivers got two tries each, and the Giants hope that’s all they needed. They’re still the same group that set the league afire last season and torched the Bucs for 604 total yards in Week 2, Manning said.

“We don’t have to go rewrite the book here,” he said. “It’s just a matter of keep working at it and we’ll get better.”