Nothing has come easy for Victor Cruz this season, so the New York Giants' receiver isn't worried about a little hand-to-hand activity against Seattle's top-ranked pass defense.
The Seahawks' secondary might be the NFL's most aggressive with cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas leading the way.
From the moment the game starts Sunday, the Seahawks' DBs are going to get in the faces of the Giants' receivers. They are going to grab. They are going to hold. They are going to be physical, and they do it so well, the officials rarely throw flags at them.
It's going to be a fight, and Cruz is ready. Despite being double-teamed almost all season, he is just 27 yards away from reaching 1,000 yards receiving for the third straight year.
Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride believes this might be Cruz's best season. It's also coming after he signed a five-year, $43 million contract in July.
"There's no question that we haven't been as effective in some of the other spots and, therefore, people gear up defensively," Gilbride said Thursday. "They're certainly very cognizant of where he is at all times. Sometimes we call it funnel coverage, where everybody is man-to-man and then there is a zone player in there. Usually that zone player is looking to see where Victor is and then we've gotten a lot more doubles."
Gilbride said it reminds him of the attention that Steve Smith and Plaxico Burress got in their primes.
With three games left in the season, Cruz has 71 catches for 973 yards, a 15.1-yard average, and four touchdowns. The reception total is 15 fewer than his career best of 86 last season. The TD total is six short of his career-high of 10 last year, while the yardage is well short of his team-record 1,536 in 2011, when he had a breakout season.
Knowing the attention he has drawn this season, Cruz is happy with the numbers. The season is another story, especially since the Giants (5-8) were eliminated from playoff contention last week. It marked the fourth time in five years New York won't be a part of the postseason.
"I am about the team," Cruz said. "The numbers are great but I am about going to the playoffs and being in contention and doing things that get the team excited, the organization excited, the fans excited."
Cruz might have produced more this season, but the offense has struggled. There have been injuries and changes on the offensive line. The running game didn't get going until halfway through the season and Hakeem Nicks, who was slowed by injuries last season, has not put up the numbers many expected with him in the final year of his contract.
Nicks has 49 catches for 789 yards, but he has been inconsistent and not scored a touchdown this season. That's allowed opponents to concentrate on Cruz, the free agent from nearby Paterson who has blossomed into a star in his four seasons.
Cruz said his biggest adjustment with the added attention is being more patient and always trying to find a way to get open.
"This year has been relatively new for me," Cruz said. "Last year I faced it a bunch, but getting it the whole year has been new. You know you have to battle and deal with it. All the good players have to go through it if you want to call yourself an elite receiver in this league."
Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas said Cruz is a crafty route runner.
"He is very explosive off the break," Thomas said. "That's one of the main things that allows him to be so explosive, that and his playmaking ability. In one instance he is slowing down to shake you, and he explodes breaking the cut. There's nothing you can do, especially when he and Eli are on the same page."
Cruz said the Seahawks usually don't double opposing receivers, but he is prepared — just in case.
NOTES: DE Jason Pierre-Paul missed another practice with a shoulder injury, but he said that he is not ready to shut down his season after missing two straight games. ... RB Brandon Jacobs had surgery Wednesday to repair osteoarthritis. He was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.