Monday, September 14, 2009

New York Giants' small receivers play big

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – One year ago, in the season opener against the Washington Redskins, the New York passing offense was all Plaxico Burress.

He caught 10 passes for 133 yards that day in a 16-7 victory. No other Giants receiver caught more than two balls for more than 23 yards.

What a difference a year makes. The 6-5 Burress is gone. So is the other starting wide receiver that day, Amani Toomer. The face of the New York passing game has changed – not that it mattered to the Redskins in a 23-17 loss.

Washington couldn't contain New York's one big receiver in 2008. In 2009, the Redskins couldn't corral New York's squadron of small receivers.

Quarterback Eli Manning played catch with four wideouts. All of them produced first downs. Steve Smith led the way with six catches, Mario Manningham chipped in three, first-round draft pick Hakeem Nicks two and Domenik Hixon one.

"We spread the ball around," Giants coach Tom Coughlin. "That shows Eli has confidence in any number of people."

That was the theme for New York's wideouts throughout training camp when they were cited as the weak link of the defending NFC East champions.

"You can put any of us out there," Manningham said. "We all can do it. It isn't just one guy. Losing a couple of wide receivers from last year's team just made us closer."

What was noticeably tighter were the routes run by the Giants against the Redskins. Burress and Toomer were long striders who picked up speed as they moved and outmuscled defenders down the field.

New York's current fleet of wideouts utilizes more cuts and turns to get open. The routes seem shorter and more controlled. They force defensive backs to rely more on their quickness than their strength in coverage.

Manningham scored the one aerial touchdown on a quick screen, which left him man-on-man against cornerback Fred Smoot on the flank. Manningham cork-screwed Smoot into the ground with his hips and then raced 30 yards down the sideline for his first NFL TD.

"That touchdown catch was all Mario," Manning said. "He improvised and made the guy miss."

Nicks sprained his foot and appears questionable for the Cowboys next Sunday night. So look for Sinorice Moss to step up into the rotation. He's another Smurf (5-8) who arrived as a second-round pick in 2006. Moss has been waiting his turn all these years.

Now it appears his turn has come – just as it did for Manningham and Smith on Sunday.


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