With the Giants standing at 2-7 and his numbers down from his spectacular rookie season, Saquon Barkley today was asked if the 2019 season has been a disappointment to him.
“Disappointment? No,” the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year said. “What’s to be disappointed about? Obviously, yes, am I upset that we’re 2-7? I don’t think anyone’s happy that we’re 2-7. Am I happy that I hurt my ankle and I missed three and a half games this year? No, I’m not happy about that. But, disappointing? No. I get to come in and play the sport that I love and play for an amazing organization, so I’m not disappointed at all. We’ve just got to find a way to get better, find a way to fight through it, and when we do flip the script, there’s definitely going to be great things ahead I believe.”
Barkley is coming off a game in which he rushed for just 28 yards in 14 carries in the Giants’ Monday night loss to Dallas. But his statistics aren’t at all dire. After nine games last year, he had rushed for 586 yards, averaged 4.5 yards a carry and run for five touchdowns. This year, he’s gained 401 yards, averaged 4.6 yards an attempt and scored twice. As he noted, the difference in the total numbers can be attributed to the time missed after spraining his ankle at Tampa Bay on Sept. 22.
“I’m not disappointed in Saquon,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “I think there’s areas where we all can play better. … He had some really good runs the other night, and then if you asked him, there’s probably some runs out there where he left a little meat on the bone.”
On a per-game basis, Barkley’s statistics are very similar to what they were at this juncture in 2018, when he was averaging 65.1 yards a game. That figure is currently 66.8. And if the victory against the Buccaneers – when he had career-low totals of eight carries and 10 yards before leaving in the first half – is eliminated, Barkley is averaging 78.9 yards an attempt, or almost 14 yards more per game than last year.
But in the two games since he returned from his injury, Barkley rushed for 92 yards on 33 carries, a 2.8-yard average. He refuses to point to his ankle as the reason those numbers aren’t bigger.
“I don’t think it’s holding me back,” he said. “It’s obvious I had an ankle injury, but it would be easy for me to sit here and make an excuse of why this and why that, but that’s not what I’m going to do. I’m just going to find a way to get better, find a way to help the team get better, find a way to be more efficient in the run game and help our team win games.”
The big difference in Barkley’s game is as a receiver. Through nine games last year, he averaged 6.9 catches a game and had 62 total. This season, he’s averaging 4.7 and has totaled 28.
“Just got to be better,” Barkley said. “Even if I ran for 200 yards, I’m always going to say there’s somewhere you could be better, you’ve got to find a way to be better. I could be more efficient in the run, better in the pass game, better all around, better leader. I always can improve. Especially, it’s easier to just pick out the little things when you’re losing, but you’ve still got to be the same way when you’re winning games. Then, it’s easy to pick out the things you need to be better on when you’re having bad games, but even when you’re having great games, you’ve still got to be as hard on yourself the same. So, just be better overall.”
Barkley and the Giants believe he can be that, starting Sunday against the 1-7 Jets. The 10th game last year is when Barkley’s rookie season really began to take off. He rushed for 142 yards and scored three total touchdowns in a victory against Tampa Bay. It was the first of four consecutive 100-yard rushing performances and five in the season’s final seven games.
“Our best game is definitely still out there in the run game,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “And when we get that going, I think it’s going to help everybody else in regard to ball security, pass protection, productivity and points.”
If it does get going as Shurmur and Co. hope, the catalyst will certainly be Barkley.
“I don’t think he’s hit his stride yet,” Shula said. “He’s done a lot of good things, and we know he’s a really good back. I think he’s part of that mix in where we’re just not quite everybody in stride. He’s had some really good runs where there hasn’t been a lot there, and there’s been some other times where I think he would probably say ‘I could do a better job, because the line did a good job, I have to do a better job here, there.’ I think he’s getting there. I think just with more carries, and still he’s young, but with more carries and things like that, he’ll continue to get better.”
Barkley concurs. He’s going to continue to put forth his maximum effort and believe he’ll soon be ripping through defenses as he did during his most productive games in 2018.
“When the running game’s not going well, the way I look at it is don’t panic,” he said. “Whether it’s you’re going through a slump, whether it’s a game you’re going through a slump, whether it’s multiple games, the way I believe in myself and believe in the offensive line that we’re going to get it going, we’re going to figure it out.
“As of right now, I’ve just got to give credit to the defenses we’ve been playing. They’ve been doing a really good job within the run game. But we still haven’t been putting ourselves in positions to win games, and no matter whether the run game is doing great or not doing so great, we’ve still got to figure out how to win games. But to fix the run game, as a leader, and as the running back, I’ve got to take responsibility of that and find a way to do it.”