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To make a playoff run, Giants need to get Saquon Barkley going again

Why has running back’s pace slowed after tremendous start to season?

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys
The Giants need big performances from Saquon Barkley down the stretch.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Saquon Barkley’s three worst rushing performances have come in the New York Giants last four games.

  • Twenty carries, 53 yards (2.65 yards per attempt) vs. the Seattle Seahawks.
  • Fifteen carries, 22 yards (1.47 yards per attempt) vs. the Detroit Lions.
  • Eleven carries, 19 yards (3.55 yards per attempt) vs. the Dallas Cowboys.

Those were sandwiched around Barkley’s career-high 35-carry, 152-yard game.

Including that 152-yard game against the Houston Texans, here are Barkley’s overall numbers in those last four games:

— 81 carries, 246 yards (3.03 yards per attempt).

In Barkley’s first seven games, he carries 143 times for 726 yards (5.08 yards per carry).

The Giants, not coincidentally, have lost three of their last four games after winning six of their first seven.

“I have to do a better job,” Barkley said after the loss to Dallas.

Maybe. In reality, though, the Giants have to be better at giving him a chance to do that job — which is to be a difference-maker.

“We can do a lot of things better. Not just in the run game but in the pass game, in the red zone, on third down,” said head coach Brian Daboll. “We’ll look at that like we do every week, evaluate things we can do better and harp on the execution of it, the fundamentals of it, the schematic stuff on the coaches’ end of it. It’s all encompassing.”

What gives?

  • Is Barkley, now fourth in the NFL with 992 rushing yards, injured? Or, worn down from a workload that has him on pace for a career-most 400 touches? His previous career-high was 352 in 2018, his outstanding rookie season.
  • Are opposing defenses ratcheting up the pressure, keying on Barkley so much that they are taking away his effectiveness?
  • Or, is it as simple as the fact that injuries at tight end have taken some of the Giants’ most effective run blockers — and run-blocking schemes — off the table?

Maybe it is some combination of all of those things.

We could get a hint as to the answer this Sunday against the Washington Commanders. The Giants could get at least a couple of blockers who were key to their running game over the first seven games back on Sunday.

Left guard Ben Bredeson started the first seven games before suffering an MCL sprain against the Jacksonville Jaguars. His 62.0 Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade is higher than any of the three players who have tried to replace him — Joshua Ezeudu (44.4 in 137 snaps), Shane Lemieux (46.0 in 15 snaps) and Jack Anderson (60.2 in 28 snaps).

Evan Neal could also be back at right tackle vs. Washington, and the Giants will welcome the rookie first-round pick. Neal (47.9) has a lower run-blocking grade than substitute tackle Tyre Phillips (53.3), but that is because of poor games (29.8 and 34.8 PFF grades) in his first two NFL starts. In all five subsequent games, Neal graded higher than Phillips’ average score, with a high of 76.4 (vs. the Dallas Cowboys) as a run blocker.

If rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger is able to return on Sunday, that should also provide a boost for the run game, and the offense as a whole. Bellinger (62.3 PFF grade as a run blocker) helps balance the offense. Without him, the Giants have relied on jumbo tight end packages using as many as eight offensive linemen.

The problem with those packages, of course, is that they telegraph the intent to run the football.

Let’s see if improved health improves the Giants’ running game.