Giants receivers create havoc for the opposition

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - When the Giants lost one of the top third-down receivers in the league this offseason, there were questions aplenty about quarterback Eli Manning’s targets.

Steve Smith, after all, had so much responsibility in New York’s offense, there was an immediate huge void to fill after his free-agent departure to the Philadelphia Eagles.

But the Giants never panicked. Their answer? Replace one with many.

Manning, rated fourth among NFL passers this year, has spread the ball around to four primary targets in Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Victor Cruz, and surprisingly productive tight end Jake Ballard. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw also snares passes, along with fullback Bear Pascoe.

“I’m not surprised,” said Manningham, whose 18 catches for 227 yards rank fourth on the team. “We’re all out there executing, doing what we gotta do. We just want to get it done.”

The Giants (4-2) take on the Miami Dolphins (0-6) on Sunday, and will try to improve on the league’s sixth-best passing offense. In reaching that standing, Manning has hit an average of just more than eight targets per game, with a season-high 10 in the 28-16 win over St. Louis in Week 2.

Aside from the three interceptions in the Week 5, 36-25 loss to Seattle, Manning has been intercepted just two other times. Pass defenses have found themselves stretched thin, especially since Ballard joined the party the past three games with his 11 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

Then again, this is nothing new for the tight end, who was previously regarded strictly as a blocker.

“My freshman year at Ohio State, we had four receivers get drafted in the first two rounds,” Ballard said. “It stretches defenses out, wears them out throughout the game.”

The amount of targets Manning has now should put the Giants at a distinct advantage against a Miami defense that has just two interceptions. The Dolphins rank as the league’s 20th pass defense. But more importantly, they have not made the big play or created the big turnover when needed.

Their 39.3-percent stoppage rate on third down ranks them 17th in the league.

Meanwhile, the Giants are a respectable 13th (23-of-73) in third-down conversion rate, and Manning is the fourth-best third-down passer in the NFC with a 89.2 rating.

Much of that, too, is due to the distribution. The unexpected rise of Cruz and Ballard just made things easier.

Then again, the Giants expected nothing less.

“It was a surprise to the outside world,” Ballard said. “But to us, the people in this locker room knew we could get the job done. We weren’t worried about that.

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