"It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key." -- Winston Churchill
I am really not surprised by the differing impressions. Such is the enigma of the 6-foot-6 fourth-year receiver from Cal-Poly, a player who seems to have the physical tools but has yet to find a place in the Giants' offense. The quotation I began with sums up Barden's Giants' career. The key has yet to be found.
Barden did make a wonderful, twisting catch reaching behind his body on Thursday, hauling in a pass that Eli Manning could not put out in front of him -- I believe because of where the defenders were. As I pointed out he did have a drop going across the middle, albeit while well-defended by Justin Tryon, and allowed Tryon to beat him to the spot trying to run a quick in-route in a third-and-two situation. Tryon batted that pass down.
For me, these three plays illustrate what you get with Barden. The twisting catch came on a flea-flicker (yes, it is in the Giants' playbook). This play is, of course, set up to look like a run. Barden, then, got a free release and was running uncontested across the middle of the field.
On the quick in route, Tryon was in 'press' coverage because of the down and distance. He jammed Barden at the line of scrimmage, Barden was never able to get position to catch the ball and Eli Manning's pass never had a chance of being completed.
This is what you get with Barden. Against 'off' coverage, given a chance to get into his route and position his 6-6, 230-pound frame between the defender and the quarterback Barden looks like a Pro Bowler. He can make that short catch on the stop, in or slant routes all day long when he isn't contested at the line of scrimmage.
Press coverage, though? Four years into his career Barden still seems unable to consistently beat the jam, get off the line, get into his route and make himself available to his quarterback.
The problem for Barden -- and the Giants -- is that if Barden is going to have a full role within the offense it is likely going to come as a fourth wideout or in the red zone, when defenses will often be employing tight coverage due to the yardage needed. Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride have to trust that Barden will be a real option every time he heads out on a pass route. To my eyes, Barden is not earning that type of trust at the moment.
Like I said, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. The key is somewhere out there. The Giants are still searching for it.