I've received a few emails this week on my previous statements about Victor Cruz. I've watched a few Giants games this year and I've certainly seen enough highlights of Cruz scoring TDs (plus his dance) to know he's got something going on.
I've been dabbling around in the dark arts lately (stats. yuck) and have been looking at things like offenses, defenses, running backs, receivers, quarterbacks, and the like, and Cruz, without a shadow of a doubt, is having a great season.
But I'm not totally sold on the Cruz hype, and I do believe I have the stats to back up my opinion. Take the jump with me and we'll break it down.
Football Outsiders has Cruz as the 4th highest receiver in DYAR. Jordy Nelson is #2, so take that how you want. FO states that they have been unable to separate the play of the WR from the play of the QB, so QBs having better seasons would, theoretically, produce higher rated WRs.
This post is more of why I think we can handle Cruz rather than whether he's good or not. You don't accrue nearly 1600 yards receiving by being bad, but I don't put him on the level of Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson, even if he has better numbers than them, because...
1) The Giants are the only team to have TWO WR in top 10 DYAR. I think it's safe to say that if one WR is good, it opens up opportunities for other WR on the field. The other WR is Hakeem Nicks, who is no slouch in his own right. Cruz, by NFL standards, started only 7 games this year, which would suggest to me he is NYG's slot receiver and not the #1 receiver (I say this partially because I don't know and partially because that's what the stats tell me).
This also suggests that, if my assumption on good QB season = higher rated WR is correct, that Eli probably had something to do with this as well, which would lead to inflated (if only a little) stats.
2) Jake Ballard. He is/was hurt for a little while, but when he was playing, he was ranked #6 in DYAR. That's really high, considering he didn't play the entire season. Correction, he finished the season #6 in DYAR. Before anyone shouts "He was hurt", his replacement, Bear Pascoe (he had a low DYAR due to lack of pass receptions, I believe, buuuuuut....) his DVOA was a positive 22.0%. To compare, Tony Gonzalez's DVOA (he was 4th in DYAR) was a positive 22.6%.
3) Receivers like Calvin Johnson/Larry Fitzgerald received zero help from anyone else. Matthew Stafford had a great season - perhaps even greater than Eli's, but there is not a DET receiver/TE to be found within 5 miles of Calvin Johnson. Aside from CJ, the next two receivers on DYAR? Titus Young and Nate Burleson, #s 55 and 56, respectively. To compare, Giants fans, that's two 2011 Mario Manninghams (He's #59. Also production-wise, not injuries and whatnot).
Fitzgerald received even less help, receiving passes from the likes of John Skelton and Kevin Kolb (and yet this dude still made it happen). Fitz's helping hand was Early Doucet, #68 in DYAR. Andre Roberts is listed, but his DYAR was negative, which I think means he was worse than an average college replacement. Eww.
DET's two primary TEs were #19 and #26 in DYAR, which Scheffler's numbers being similar to Pascoe's, and he was the highest rated TE for DET. ARI's best TE was Jeff King, a toasty #23 in DYAR, again similar numbers to Pascoe. All three aforementioned TEs played the whole season, save for one game missed by Scheffler.
The only thing that might could be said in Fitz's case is that their running game wasn't horrible, but their QB play wasn't helpful in any way, shape, or form.
4) His Effective Yards are negative. Effective Yards, as explained by FO, is a way to tell (generally) whether a person played above or below their stats. Cruz's effective yards are negative, which would suggest that he played below his stats. The difference is very small, but it is still negative, and I'm trying to make my case, here.
To compare, Hakeem Nicks's EYards were +139 (if my quick mental math is right). In fact, every receiver in the top 14 (Darn you, Steve Smith, for making this a weird number) had EYards that were higher than their generic yards. All of those were not close.
To compare for Falcons fans, Roddy White was #19 in DYAR and was #46 in DVOA (eww), but his EYards were +207 (if mental math is correct again), suggesting he played well over his stats, which is safe to say that's probably correct, since it seems like he got open way more than his stats give him credit for, except that dropsie stat. Those tell it all.
Of my 4 points, this is the only one I'm not sure about, because I may be interpreting this statistic incorrectly.
In conclusion, I think you'll find that Victor Cruz, in spite of his great season, is not on the level of Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, who are on the "He'll get his" level of play by a WR. There are very, very few WR who reach this level of play, and even fewer who are able to produce great numbers in spite of having little or no assistance from his teammates.
I do not think Cruz is a bad WR and, if not respected, could easily burn us. We could say the same about Julio Jones, who does not show up on advanced stat sheets, but has similar averages to Cruz in about 5 fewer games worth of playing time. I do not think Julio Jones will "get his" this week, in spite of my personal high regard for him, but if anyone has been paying attention to the past few weeks of Falcons football, the Julio Jones highlights have been coming in droves.
However, due to the nature of Brent Grimes, I think Cruz can be mostly a non-factor. Brent Grimes, when healthy, is the best athlete on the entire team, as showcased by this video here. I can assure you all that, in spite of the age of that video, Grimes (when healthy) is perfectly capable of reproducing that effort.
Victor Cruz is not particularly tall, nor is he particularly big. He is fast, but so is Grimes. Grimes's only real flaw is that he can't be but 5'6", but he can run with anyone, and I'm sure there are more than just Falcons fans that would tell you that.
That, combined with the stats I have shown above, is why I do not fear Victor Cruz. I would actually expect Hakeem Nicks to beat us before Cruz, if only because ATL is horrid against #1 WRs. I do expect our defense to prepare amply for both of those players, but again, these are only my words, I have no idea what will happen.
I mean no disrespect. I'm not that kind of guy. I just try to tell it like it is, and from the resources I have and from the players the Falcons have, I think Cruz can be shut down. Will it happen? Who knows. That's why we play the game.