All of a sudden, an area that was the Giants strength will rely on contributions from a medley of different receivers.
Victor Cruz is a given. After a few timely drops Week 1, he’s bounced back to show that last season was no fluke. However, if the Browns or any other opposing defense focuses on limiting Cruz, Eli Manning will need his other targets to step up.
Of course, tight end Martellus Bennett needs to be more of a factor offensively, but Domenik Hixon and Rueben Randle hold the key to Manning’s passing attack this week.
Hixon is coming off a career-high 114 receiving yards against the Eagles, so expect Manning to target him often. His injury history is always a concern, but he’s ready to play the role of deep threat this Sunday.
Randle can be the X-factor for Big Blue. He only has one catch through the first four games, since he’s mainly served as punt returner. But he’s expected to fill in for Barden on the outside.
Randle is almost an identical mold of Cruz, though the LSU-product does have two inches in height on the Salsa-dancing touchdown machine. So he obviously won’t be expected to out-jump cornerbacks like Barden can.
But if Cruz will be lining up on the outside, Randle becomes the possession receiver the Giants will need to pick up key medium-range third-down conversions.
It’s always tough for a rookie to step in and make an immediate impact. But maybe Randle has a chip on his shoulder after Cris Collinsworth’s comments on Sunday Night Football questioning his work ethic.
Tom Coughlin of course averted this criticism and said Randle is “working hard,” but now the rookie will actually get the chance to prove himself in extended action.
If Hixon and Randle can fill in adequately, Manning will have plenty of targets on the outside to get past the Browns. However, with a difficult schedule looming, Nicks and Barden need to return to action as soon as they’re healthy to add to Big Blue’s offensive attack.
In a best case scenario, Hixon and Randle play extremely well, giving Manning even more reliable options when everyone’s healthy.
Follow Jim Mancari on Twitter at JMMancari.