Eli Manning was only on the field long enough to throw five passes during Thursday's night's not-so-riveting 18-13 preseason victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. He needed just one of those passes to remind Giants fans of how exciting New York's vertical passing game can be when it's working.
Facing a 3rd-and-4 on the Giants 43-yard line, Manning felt pressure, stepped up in the pocket, and found Victor Cruz streaking past William Gay and Troy Polamalu down the middle of the field. Cruz made the catch in stride 27 yards from scrimmage and sprinted past his pursuit into the end zone. It was the perfect example of how dangerous the fourth-year wide receiver can be when he gets the ball in open space.
"Yeah, it was good to obviously get a big play and a third down conversion and get a touchdown," said Manning, "So that's always nice to get one of your top receivers a catch in the game and still know that he has the playmaking ability that he has had the last couple years."
As if there was any doubt about Cruz's playmaking ability. In 2012, he dropped nearly 500 yards from his blistering 2011 total of 1,536, but Cruz was still as dangerous as ever. He clinched a victory against Washington with a 77-yard touchdown catch in the game's final two minutes, scored three touchdowns in a comeback win over the Browns, and scored a crucial touchdown in New York's December triumph over New Orleans.
Still, the question about the Giants has never been about potential, but consistency. Cruz and Manning struggled to connect at times last season, and as a result the team's performance suffered in blowout losses to Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Baltimore. That consistency is something the Giants can work on this preseason.
"Yeah, I thought we did some good things," said Manning on New York's first preseason performance. "We had some good plays, had some third down conversions, you know and obviously there's going to be things we can work on and that's the point of preseason. Do some things well but it should get better. Your best game of the year is not supposed to be that first preseason game. There's going to be a lot of areas where you have new guys, things you can improve on."
There are already plenty of things for the Giants to improve on. In the first quarter of Saturday's win, New York failed to score a touchdown on a drive that started at Pittsburgh's 5-yard line. Later on, Andre Brown dropped a simple pitch on a sweep play. In the fourth quarter, a botched snap gave the Steelers a touchdown.
Manning and the Giants will look to get sharper in Sunday night's game against the Colts.
"Just obviously have some more drives, have a couple more series, just being sharper overall and our execution," said Manning. "Sometimes, you know it's not exactly where the ball's going but the backside and different routes and make sure everybody's doing the right assignments and doing it well so we'll just continue to work on that and play at a faster level."