Saquon Barkley has not rushed for at least 100 yards in seven consecutive full games, three more than the longest streak in his 2018 Rookie of the Year season or in his three seasons at Penn State.
“I don’t care about that,” Barkley said today. “I just want to win, to be honest.”
That’s a noble and understandable sentiment, considering the Giants’ drought is longer than Barkley’s. They have lost nine straight games and are 2-11 as they prepare to host the 3-10 Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
But it’s not illogical to think if Barkley can end his streak, it will help the Giants halt theirs. He is still high up on any list of their most talented players, and said he is fully healed from the ankle sprain that forced him to miss 3½ games early in the season.
Barkley has played nine complete games (plus most of the first half at Tampa Bay, where he ran for 10 yards on eight carries). In those nine games, he has rushed for 600 yards (66.7 per game) and averaged 4.1 yards a carry. He exceeded 100 yards in the season’s first two games with 120 at Dallas and 107 vs. Buffalo. Since then, his single-game high was 83 yards vs. Green Bay two weeks ago.
Barkley actually has 14 more yards now than he had in his first nine games last season (586), when he averaged 4.5 yards a carry. But last year at this juncture, he had eight runs of 20 or more yards, including three of at least 46 yards. Currently, he has four 20+-yard runs and just one longer than 27 yards – a 59-yarder in the season opener against the Cowboys.
“You can see a lot of the focal point of defenses is to stop the run,” he said today. “But I think we are doing a good job of taking what the defense is giving us. In these last couple of weeks, I think we’ve been getting those dirty runs, taking those four and those fives. But the game also has got to present you to continue to run the ball. The Eagles did a really good job (Monday night), especially in the fourth quarter, in the second half, of holding the ball. I don’t really know the time of possession, but it definitely was in their favor. Green Bay, they got up on us. A lot of teams, the mindset is to go throw the ball to come back to try to win the game. In Chicago, they got up on us.
“So, I think in the last couple of games, we’ve been averaging 4 or 4.5, around there. But you’ve got to be able to continue to run the ball into the fourth quarter. Obviously, everyone wants those big 60-yard, 80-yard runs, but sometimes those come by just wearing defenses down. We haven’t really gotten the opportunity to do that. I don’t think we’ve been in a four-minute (protect a late lead) situation yet this season, or that I’ve been a part of.”
It was in the 10th game last year when Barkley really began to take off, beginning a stretch of four consecutive 100-yard games. He has only three games left to play this season, but the Giants would love to see him finish with a similar surge.
“Last year when we got rolling, it was you get on a roll and you stay on it,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “That’s our goal to do that every year. More importantly, to win football games. We know that the running game is going to be a big part of that. I think that probably four or five weeks ago, we kind of struggled just with a few things, just with some moving parts. Saquon was just getting back from his injury. I think the last few weeks, though, we’ve been back heading in the direction where we want to go. We’re not quite there, but there are a lot of positive runs, a lot of efficient runs. You see our offensive line coming off the ball, you see them re-establishing the line of scrimmage, Saquon is hitting it up in there. We’ve had a few that have been really close, really in the last three games, from breakouts. I felt that way the week before. Unfortunately, we had to punt it over and then got down a couple scores. We had to kind of get to throwing the football. Then last week, we were kind of the same. But there is a lot more good now than basically what we saw four or five weeks ago.”
The Dolphins’ run defense is tied for 30th in the NFL, allowing 141.1 yards on the ground per game. Perhaps this is the week Barkley and the Giants’ rushing attack begins to gain the yardage they’d like to.
“I think I’m getting better and better each week,” Barkley said. “My body is getting healthier and healthier each week. Try to finish the season off strong.”
*Daniel Jones practiced on a limited basis today, but coach Pat Shurmur is still not ready to declare whether he or Eli Manning will start at quarterback. Speaking prior to practice, Shurmur was asked if he expected to have any clarity on the issue today.
“Probably not,” he said. “It’s going to probably take time, as we did all year (with injured players). Not full clarity, I would say. Just like any injury, it’s a process to come back.”
Jones sprained his ankle against Green Bay on Dec. 1 and did not play Monday night in Philadelphia.
“He’s getting better,” Shurmur said. “We’ll put him out there today, see how he does moving around and then see how he responds through the evening, and just keep getting him. But, he’s making progress, we’ll just see if he’ll make enough to play.
If Jones doesn’t play, Manning will start again.
“Eli is an outstanding player, so him back in the game is a good thing,” Shurmur said. “You never want to have an injury to anybody, but in our situation, Eli going out there, he can execute at a very high level and he’s done it for many years.”
*The two Giants players who did not practice today are both starters: right guard Kevin Zeitler (ankle/wrist) and cornerback Janoris Jenkins (ankle). Zeitler has started 85 consecutive games since last sitting out on Nov. 2, 2014, when he was a third-year pro with Cincinnati. If he doesn’t play, Nick Gates will replace him. A first-year pro, Gates started one game this season, at right tackle against the Jets on Nov. 10.
*In addition to Jones, tight ends Evan Engram (foot) and Rhett Ellison (concussion/non-contact) were limited. Wide receiver Golden Tate (foot) and cornerback Corey Ballentine (concussion) practiced fully).