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Tiki Barber: Saquon Barkley isn’t an every-down back

Is the former Giant taking a shot at Barkley, or does he have a good point?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants fans definitely have a “love-hate” relationship with former Giants running back Tiki Barber.

On one hand, it’s easy to remember Barber as an all-time great Giant and one of the best offensive players in the team’s history. But on the other hand, his willingness to make controversial statements — either correctly or incorrectly — incurs the wrath of fans.

Well, Tiki might just be at it again after he said that Saquon Barkley “might not be an every-down back” following the Giants’ 26-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football.

“He can not pass protect, and it is starting to become glaring,” Barber said on the Tiki and Tierney Show. “It was probably the only issue he had coming in to the NFL, because he wasn’t asked to do it at Penn State. And now you see him diving on the ground, not sticking his head into people’s chest. It’s going to be a liability, because people see it not, it’s on tape, and it’s going to come out.

“If you watch him for the last couple years, he doesn’t want to block. I learned this early on in my career, because I was a third down back before I was a ‘star’ running back, if you can’t block, you can’t be on the field on third down. You just can’t, because you know those are high blitz and dog downs. You know someone is going to be coming from the safety [position], so you have to recognize what a defense is trying to do, how they’re going to dog or blitz you. Recognition is one, and then two, you gotta go hit a dude! Saquon Barkley is a big man, and he doesn’t want to hit anybody. That is frustrating to watch, he’s a great back, but he’s frustrating to watch trying to pass protect.”

Tiki has a point here. There were a number of plays Monday night when Barkley either failed to recognize a blitz or properly meet the Steelers’ blitzers when he was in pass protection.

The most glaring was the sack by Mike Hilton at the start of the fourth quarter.

Barkley starts the play by moving to help Andrew Thomas block Bud Dupree, which would have been okay if the blitz wasn’t on. However, you can see Hilton’s helmet turn into the backfield a few times before the snap of the ball, while the safety on that side of the field moves over the slot. That should at least be a clue that the Steelers are sending pressure — particularly in the context of a game in which they were blitzing very frequently (61 percent of drop-backs, per NextGenStats).

But Barkley doesn’t recognize the blitz until Hilton is through the left B-gap and he simply can’t recover in time to do anything but dive at Hilton’s heels. That sack ended the Giants’ drive, and the resulting field position helped set up the touchdown which put the Steelers up by 16 with 5:28 left in the game.

And as Tiki says, this isn’t a new problem for Barkley. The most infamous play of his young career came in pass protection.

Barkley did identify Adams as a blitzer, but he seemed to try and just catch him. Adams is a great player, but Barkley is bigger, stronger, more powerful, and has more natural leverage. He shouldn’t have been overpowered like that.

While Barkley had a career-worst night running the ball, his struggles in pass protection should probably the be the bigger concern. It’s a problem Barkley needs to fix soon, otherwise he might not be a true three-down running back.