The hole at right cornerback was the biggest weakness on the Philadelphia Eagles throughout the 2010 season, as both Ellis Hobbs and Dimtri Patterson were let go after the year.
The Eagles made the biggest splash of the offseason, bringing in four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, widely regarded as the top shutdown corner in the National Football League, as the new right cornerback. Coupled with the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, plus Asante Samuel, who made the Pro Bowl each of the previous three seasons, the Eagles’ pass defense was expected to be among the best in the game in 2011.
The Eagles held Rams’ quarterback Sam Bradford without a touchdown pass in the season opener, but Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan torched them for four touchdown tosses in week two. Heading into a must-win home opener against the division rival New York Giants in week three, the jury was still up in the air on the Eagles’ pass defense.
That quickly changed.
Eli Manning destroyed the Eagles with four touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter, as the Giants won 29-16, for their first victory against the Eagles since week 10 of the 2008 season.
Two of the touchdowns went to Victor Cruz, a relatively unknown wide receiver who only earned playing time because of injuries to Mario Manningham.
The first was this 74-yard catch and go, in which Cruz caught a short pass from Eli Manning and broke a big tackle attempt from safety Kurt Coleman. He raced down the sideline and eluded a pathetic one-handed tackle attempt from Nnamdi Asomugha, who fell to the ground after he was bowled over by a sprinting Coleman. Cruz dashed untouched into the end zone to give the Giants a 14-0 lead.
The Eagles would take the lead though, and led 16-14 with just over eight minutes to play. The Giants faced a 3rd and 2 on the Eagles’ 28-yard line. Eli Manning took the snap and heaved the ball into the left corner of the end zone, where Cruz was being covered by Nnamdi Asomugha.
That’s Cruz, an unknown, undrafted nobody being covered by a former first-round pick, the Eagles’ $60 million man, arguably the best cornerback in the NFC.
Cruz made it look easy. He outjumped Nnamdi, caught the ball, and reached past safety Jarrad Page to score what would be the game-winning touchdown for the Giants.
He finished the day with just three catches, but they went for 110 yards and two touchdowns.
And they couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Eagles.
Not only did Cruz help the Giants win the game, but he jump started his career. He’s now arguably one of the five best receivers in the NFL, finishing with 82 catches for 1536 yards and nine touchdowns, including this 99-yard catch and run against the Jets that probably saved the season for the Giants.
Nnamdi’s season, as you may have heard, went in the complete opposite direction from Cruz. He finished the season with the unofficial label as the biggest free agent disappointment, and is a prime example of why the Eagles finished an embarrassing 8-8.
I still wonder if the season would have gone completely different for both teams if Nnamdi’s right arm had just managed to knock down that jump ball to Cruz.
Eagles win, Giants lose. That means Eagles win the division, Giants miss the playoffs. Tom Coughlin is fired. The Giants are in a rebuilding stage next year.
Eagles go on a playoff run, win the Super Bowl. Reid is extended. Vick is handed the key to the city and a statue is placed in front of Lincoln Financial Field. Casey Matthews wins the game’s MVP trophy, giving him a 1-0 advantage over his brother in Super Bowl MVP trophies.
Okay. So that last paragraph is a bit of stretch. But you get my point.