Dave Gettleman believes in Daniel Jones as strongly as ever and is excited about the prospects for the Giants’ offensive line. He is also dissatisfied the team averaged only 17.5 points a game in 2020.
Because of that, the general manager today had no reason to be coy regarding the franchise’s objectives as it enters a critical offseason.
“At the end of the day, we need to find playmakers,” Gettleman said during his annual postseason news conference on Zoom. “That’s all there is to it. I’m not sugarcoating it. If you talk about philosophically doing roster building, it’s the Q (quarterback), it’s the big men who allow you to compete. On offense, it’s playmakers. We have to be very conscious of it. We’re going to find the right guys to help Daniel get us over that hump.
“We’ve got great leadership. We’ve got a young club, a new, young team. I understand that. At the end of the day, this is an important offseason, roster building offseason, for us. We’ve got some solid pieces. We’ve built up the lines. We’ve done some things. We have to continue to get good players and part of it is getting playmakers, because that’s what you’re referring to. This is a goal of ours, obviously, for the offseason.”
On his own Zoom call with reporters, team president and chief executive officer John Mara expressed a similar sentiment.
“I think we certainly need to help our offense a little bit this offseason, be it free agency and the draft,” Mara said. “I think we need some more pieces there. Part of the problem that we had is we had a brand new offensive line with new guys playing new positions. They had never played together before, we had no offseason, we had no preseason games for them to get to know each other and get the feel for playing with one another, and they struggled, particularly early in the year, no question about it. I thought they started to play better in the second half of the season. But there’s no question that we need to help our offense going forward and add some more pieces. That will be a priority for us.”
The Giants were 6-10 and NFC East second-place finishers in 2020. Despite the record, they would be preparing for a postseason game as division champions had Washington lost to Philadelphia Sunday night.
Gettleman acknowledges the roster must be upgraded before the 2021 season begins. But he strongly believes the Giants have the two elements most critical to any improvement with Joe Judge as coach and Jones at quarterback.
“The bottom line is, with Joe, is his big picture view and then the follow up on the attention to detail,” Gettleman said. “That’s what’s really critical. He starts at A and gets to Z. That is huge, that is really huge. Obviously, he is a very bright guy. That’s what really sticks out in my mind. Just the big picture and the attention to detail. No detail is too small, the old saying, ‘The devil is in the details.’ He and his staff, he is really tuned into that.”
Gettleman selected Jones sixth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft and he’s more convinced than ever that it was the correct decision.
“Obviously, he flashed last year,” Gettleman said of Jones’ rookie season. “He had some big games and played well. Then he had games that weren’t so great. This year, early in the season he was struggling with his ball protection. We all know that. The second half of the year unfortunately he had that blip with the hamstring (and missed two games). He finished the season very strong. He played well against Baltimore despite getting chased all over the place to a degree. Made some big-time throws.”
In the season-ending 23-19 victory against Dallas on Sunday, Jones completed 17 of 25 passes for 229 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a season-best 106.9 passer rating. That would have put the Giants into the postseason had the Philadelphia Eagles defeated Washington that night.
“Really and truly, it may sound trite, but obviously the last game of the year was a playoff game for us, it really was,” Gettleman said. “We have to win that game to force Washington to win their game. Daniel played very well. He made a couple of big-time throws. Protected the ball for the most part. The one pick was off of Evan’s (Engram) hands. He’s done a lot of really good stuff. He’s made of the right stuff mentally and physically. Again, we’re talking about a young quarterback who has had two different offensive coordinators in the NFL. Two different systems. Obviously, he had a different one at Duke, so he got three different systems in three years. I thought he got beyond the hamstring the last two games and he played well. We have complete confidence in him moving forward.”
Upgrading the offensive line has been one of Gettleman’s priorities since he arrived. This year, the group had three new starters in left tackle Andrew Thomas (the team’s 2020 first-round draft choice) left guard Shane Lemieux (a fifth-round selection) and center Nick Gates, a third-year pro who had never before played the position. Communication and continuity are considered critical for an O-line and as Mara noted, this group (which early in the season had Will Hernandez at left guard) had to develop a rapport via virtual meetings and training camp practices.
“We’ve got some really nice, young pieces,” Gettleman said. “Nick Gates stepped in there. He’d never played offensive center before. We drafted Will (Hernandez) and Shane Lemieux. You have (Kevin) Zeitler and Andrew Thomas who acquitted himself very well when he had that rough patch and then he got himself rolling again. I think this offensive line can compete. You can cherry pick here, cherry pick there, in terms of which game you want to pick and how the offense did. The offensive line showed very good progress. They’re big, they’re young, they’re strong and they’re tough and smart. This O-Line has a chance to be pretty damn good.”
The defensive line already is, most notably Leonard Williams. Gettleman was roundly criticized at midseason in 2019 when he sent three and fifth-round draft choices to the Jets for Williams, a first-round draft choice in 2015. Williams was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week twice following two of the final five games, including after his career-high three-sack performance against Dallas. He finished the season with a team-high and career-best 11.5 sacks.
“Leonard deserves a lot of credit for how he prepared this year,” Gettleman said. “Sean Spencer working with him as the D-line coach, the scheme that (defensive coordinator) Pat (Graham) had for him.. There was a reason that (Williams was the sixth overall selection in the draft). Leonard did a great job. He did a great job of working his fanny off. Again, the atmosphere for our players – one of hard work, you can have fun, you can enjoy yourself and Leonard did a heck of a job and his position coach, Sean Spencer, Pat Graham and Joe. The bottom line is he thrived in our atmosphere. I’m ecstatic. It’s like I tell players all the time, ‘I only want you to be successful and I want you to make me cry when it comes to negotiations.’”
While the Giants have numerous promising pieces on offense and defense, growing pains are always difficult to endure. Aside from perhaps Mara, no one has felt them more acutely than Gettleman.
“Of course, it’s disappointing,” Gettleman said. “It’s disappointing not just for me personally, but I’m disappointed for the organization. I’m disappointed for the players and the fans. Sure, it’s disappointing. Listen, last time I double checked, it’s about winning. I’m very disappointed. I guess the best thing I can say is – John said in 2018 we didn’t have a stellar year, didn’t have a stellar roster building season, it’s affected us. We’re on the right track right now. We’ve done some really good stuff the last two years. We’re going to fix this. We are going to fix this.”
Gettleman is a cancer survivor who turns 70 next month. But he is determined and motivated to lead the fix.
“I feel good, I feel strong. I had my 24-month review with my lymphoma doctor. He says you’re as healthy as a horse. Let’s just keep moving, so I’m ready to rock.
“It really is dependent upon the Lord how long I stick around for. We’re all day to day, by the way, in case anybody missed that point. I feel fine, I feel good, I’m excited. I just want to keep going. I don’t know where this retirement stuff came from. I have no idea what that’s all about. There are probably some people that… at the end of the day, I feel great. So, let’s keep going.”
Saquon Barkley and Adrian Peterson first met on Oct. 28, 2018, when Peterson scored two touchdowns and Barkley totaled 111 yards from scrimmage in Washington’s 20-13 victory against the Giants in MetLife Stadium. The two stellar running backs came together at midfield following the game and expressed their mutual admiration and Peterson told the then-rookie, “the sky’s the limit for you.”
Before retreating to their respective locker rooms, the future Hall of Famer had four words of advice for Barkley: “stay focused and keep grinding.”
More than two years later, that counsel has become particularly poignant to Barkley.
On Sept. 20, he suffered a serious knee injury in the Giants’ second game of the season. Barkley underwent surgery on Oct. 30 to repair a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. He spoke publicly today for the first time since that operation on a Zoom call with reporters when he was asked if he has any uncertainty about becoming the same player he was before the injury.
“No doubt in my mind,” Barkley said.
That confidence comes from his dedication to an arduous rehabilitation and his determination to return to the level of play that made him the 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and the first player in Giants history to exceed 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first two seasons. It also emanates from the example Peterson set nine years ago.
On Dec. 24, 2011, Peterson, then a fifth-year pro with the Minnesota Vikings, tore his ACL and MCL in a game in Washington. He ended his season with 970 rushing yards, his first season with less than 1,000.
Peterson more than made up for it in 2012, when he led the NFL with a career-high 2,097 yards and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player, still the last non-quarterback to win the award. Now with the Detroit Lions in his 14th season, Peterson has 14,660 career rushing yards and 115 touchdowns – including 7,908 yards and 51 scores since his surgery.
It’s no surprise Barkley would like to emulate Peterson’s on-field exploits.
“Someone who’s really important to me would be A.P.,” Barkley said. “Obviously, when you hear this injury, the first person that comes to your mind is the season that A.P. had. I reached out to him or he reached out to me. He put me in contact with his trainer, I was able to ask him a lot of questions. Also, I think the day before surgery, I got to chat with A.P. for a very long time. I could see myself continuing to chat with him throughout.”
The post-injury production of Peterson and numerous other running backs has helped convince Barkley he will be the same dynamic player he was before his surgery.
“That’s the mindset,” Barkley said. “I’m never going to go in it with a negative approach. I feel like you should never go into anything in life with a negative approach. I think a positive mindset is going to be the thing that helps you get through a lot of things in life. That’s the mindset I’m going to have. I know that I’m going to be able to come out and be a better player. That’s what I’m going to challenge myself with. I know that starts with today.”
Though he exudes confidence, Barkley made no grandiose promises or boasts. He wouldn’t say when he expects to return to optimal health.
“No target date in mind,” he said. “Just coming every single day trying to get one percent better and continuing to trust in the medical staff and the trainers here.”
But Barkley admits it has been difficult being a spectator. After 625 touches in his first two years, he had just 19 rushing attempts and six receptions before the injury ended his season.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” he said. “Just the fact that the game that I love and been playing since I was seven is taken away from me a little bit. That definitely is challenging. But I’m just trying to be as supportive as I can. I love seeing my guys out there balling, doing their thing, especially the way we’re playing right now. That definitely makes life a lot easier. I have a lot of great people in my corner, with my family, my friends staying with me and pushing me through. That’s really the focus.
“Yes, I’m a competitor and I would love to have this over yesterday. But that’s not the case, so just have to come with that mindset of taking the same approach as I would if I was on the football field, trying to get better every single day, taking that into rehab.”
Barkley is heartened by the Giants’ recent success, three consecutive victories, as they prepare to play the Seahawks Sunday in Seattle. That includes the improvement of the team’s rushing attack, which initially struggled without Barkley, exceeding 100 yards just once in the first five games. But the Giants have exceeded that figure in each of the last six games, the team’s longest such streak since 2010. Wayne Gallman has rushed for 293 yards and six touchdowns in the last five games.
“Wayne Train, I’m so proud of him,” Barkley said. “He’s playing amazing. Not only him, but Alfred (Morris), EP (Eli Penny), the offensive line, they’re playing amazing. I remember after the Steelers game, when obviously, I guess you could say the run game wasn’t so pretty (totaling 29 yards in the season opener), I remember talking to the offensive line right there and saying, ‘We know what we have here. We’re going to get this thing figured out.’
“Honestly, I wish I was able to be a part of it. But I’m still part of it, to be completely honest. That’s my mindset. I’m still part of it in a way. But to see those guys open up those holes and seeing the running backs run in a way that Wayne is running is honestly amazing. It’s really helped the team.”
Barkley said he is “doing pretty well” mentally and emotionally while acknowledging that challenges lie ahead.
“I imagine there are going to be some more dark places coming up,” he said. “I would say really, probably the darkest time for me was right when it happened. Even though it wasn’t diagnosed what it was, I kind of had a feeling what happened. Obviously, that kind of brings you to tears. It’s tough in that moment. I know how hard I worked. I know how hard we worked as a team and what I wanted to help this team do this year, and I knew that was all taken away at that moment.
“But kind of have to suck it up. You can’t cry about it too long. You can’t complain about it too long. You have to move on. Everything happens for a reason. I have to have that mindset. Like I said, I have amazing people in my life, an amazing team and an amazing staff here and teammates and all those guys who help me and are continuing to help me get through this.”
So is the example set by Adrian Peterson.
The New York Giants have signed former Falcons RB Devonta Freeman, the team announced on Wednesday..
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, it’s a one-year deal worth up to $3 million. After they lost RB Saquon Barkley to a torn ACL in Sunday’s loss to the Bears, the Giants turned to Freeman.
Last season, Freeman, 28, rushed for 656 yards and two rushing touchdowns for the Falcons. The two-time Pro Bowler was pretty good outside the backfield in 2019. Freeman had career-highs in receptions(70) and receiving touchdowns(4).
On Wednesday, Giants head coach Joe Judge discussed the signing of Freeman.
“He had a good workout for us yesterday,” Judge said via a video call. “We watched his tape from the past few years. Obviously, we have familiarity, Jerome Henderson was in Atlanta with him. He really spoke highly of the character he brings to the team, the kind of teammate he is in the locker room. I think he’s got some juice left in the tank. We’ll give him the opportunity to prove that.”
The six-year veteran did practice with the team today, and according to Judge, New York hopes to have him on the field this Sunday against the 49ers.
“We just got him in the building, so today will be a day of trying to catch him up and build him into the game plan,” Judge said. “Obviously, he has a lot to learn going into Sunday. But we’re going to do our best to get him ready for Sunday if we can do that.
While he is not Barkley, Freeman could be a good option for the Giants. It should be interesting to see how much he does have in the tank, and if you listen to what Judge had to say on Wednesday, it’s clear, they will give him every opportunity to show he can still play at a high level.
To make room for Freeman, the Giants placed wide receiver Sterling Shepard on injured reserve with turf toe. Like Barkley, Shepard was hurt in the second quarter of the Giants’ 17-13 loss in Chicago on Sunday. He is eligible to be reinstated to the roster after missing three games.
Saquon Barkley touched the football just 25 times before his 2020 season ended because of a torn right anterior cruciate ligament that will force him to undergo surgery and endure an arduous rehabilitation.
Do the Giants face a similarly challenging road ahead without their most dynamic and decorated player?
Coach Joe Judge is confident his team will soldier on, remain focused and continue to improve. But he knows the offense will require some alteration without the running back who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the previous two seasons.
“First off, losing a player who is such a good teammate and someone who’s such a hard worker on the field will impact the team in a lot of ways,” Judge said after leading the team’s review of the 17-13 loss to the Bears yesterday in Chicago. “Saquon is a tremendous player. We have even more respect for him as a person. I personally hate for this guy, as hard as he’s worked and as much impact as he’s had for this team. I know our team has similar feelings as well. I talked to a number of players already.
“In terms of how we game plan and scheme, our focus will always change week by week. Regardless of how our roster looks, we’re always going to do what’s best for the team going forward to match up with the specific opponent. The guys that are on our roster, we’re going to have to find ways to put them in a positions of strength and find ways to match up with our opponent favorably.”
The Giants have three other backs on their active roster: Dion Lewis, who took over for Barkley yesterday and scored the Giants’ only touchdown; Wayne Gallman, who was inactive in Chicago but has rushed for 762 yards and caught 60 passes in four seasons with the team; and Eli Penny, who is listed as a fullback. In addition, veteran back Rod Smith is on the practice squad.
“Wayne and Dion are definitely guys that will factor in,” Judge said. “We’ll work to their strengths, they are two different types of backs. Both of them have a degree of toughness. Wayne’s got that long speed, get him ranging out and get him really moving. Dion’s got that real good short area quickness and burst to go get going. He does a great job of finding small seams and getting through the hole. They are both different guys, we’re going to have to work with what they do well to give them an opportunity to be successful. … There’s a number of players in our program we are going to be working with. We’ll see where the future takes us elsewhere throughout this long season in the NFL. There’s always a lot of roster movement.”
Barkley was hurt on the first play of the second quarter. While gaining six yards running to his right, Barkley’s leg landed awkwardly as he was tackled by safety Eddie Jackson. He appeared to be in pain before hitting the ground, where he grabbed his knee, pounded his fist and removed his helmet. Barkley underwent a preliminary examination in Chicago. The Giants announced at noon today that an MRI of his knee this morning at Hospital for Special Surgery confirmed the diagnosis of a torn ACL.
Barkley, who was elected a team captain for the second time, ends his third season with 34 rushing yards on 19 carries and six receptions for 60 yards.
“I think it’s emotional for any of your players,” Judge said. “You know how hard these guys work. You know how important it is to them. Not to mention how it impacts directly their own lives and their families’ lives. There’s definitely some emotion attached to losing any player. Saquon’s obviously no different. He’s been voted a captain on this team, he’s very important to the team, he speaks for the team. He always holds the best interest of the team first. He exemplifies what it is on and off the field for us. We’re going to miss having him on the grass, but we’re going to keep him involved as much as we can going forward.”
The two players who spoke publicly today grieved his loss but expressed confidence their teammates will respond favorably in the final 14 games, beginning at home Sunday against the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers.
“Obviously, my heart goes out to him,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “He works extremely hard. Obviously, he’s a leader on this team. I know from working out with him over the summer that he was looking forward to this season after the ankle injury last year (that cost him three games and left him at least than 100% in several others). I’m definitely, definitely praying for him. But he’s a guy who’s going to bounce back better than ever. Minor setback for a major comeback. In this league, injuries happen. You hate it, but it happens. You have to have a next man up mentality. I think the guys that we have in the room do a good job stepping up.”
“For it to happen the way it did yesterday, I know we’re all kind of bummed because we are brothers,” wide receiver Golden Tate said. “We love each other so much. It’s unfortunate, but that is the nature of the game. There are injuries that happen in this game every game unfortunately. It always hurts when you have guys like Saquon and Shep (wide receiver Sterling Shepard) deal with an injury. But we’re just going to keep chugging. We can’t dwell on this. We have to just keep working hard and find a way.”
Everyone connected to the Giants, from players and coaches to the team’s millions of fans, are hopeful a healthy Barkley will return to the field in 2021.
“You look at some of the other guys around the league who have been able to come back from ACL’s and have tremendous seasons those next years out,” Judge said. “I think you can focus on there’s a lot of top athletes and with the medical care they get right now. This is a young guy who is very physically gifted. There are good doctors out there, he is going to get the best medical care possible. We have a great training staff to help rehab him along the way. We’re going to do everything in our position as coaches to keep him involved mentally sharp. Then when we finally get a chance to get him back on the field physically, obviously we’re going to gear everything around his specific plan to get him going full speed at the right rate.
“I tell you what, I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again, I won’t fall asleep on 26, it’s going to be a hell of a story.”
*Judge did not provide a definitive diagnosis on Shepard.
“He did have a lower limb injury yesterday in the game,” Judge said. “Tried to come back early in the second half and wasn’t able to finish. We’ll see where that is right now. I can’t speak for Shep in terms of how he feels. I haven’t been able to sit down with him and talk with him directly about that yet. I’m going to check with our training staff after this meeting and see where things are at going forward.”
On Sept. 22, 2019, Saquon Barkley was carted off the field at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa with a sprained ankle that subsequently forced him to miss three games, the first absences of his career.
Fast forward to exactly 52 weeks later, on Sunday afternoon in Soldier Field in Chicago. The Giants’ third-year running back again needed assistance to get to the locker room. This time, the injury is to his right knee, suffered on the first play of the second quarter of a 17-13 loss to the Chicago Bears. How long he will be sidelined was not immediately known.
Barkley will undergo a thorough examination on Monday. And while the news could be bad, coach Joe Judge put up a brave front.
“Obviously we’re all praying for the best,” Judge said in a postgame Zoom call with reporters. “I would just say this, regardless of whatever the outcome is going to be and what the doctors say tomorrow, I wouldn’t fall asleep on 26. It’s going to be a hell of a story either way.”
The Giants hope it is one with a happy ending. But they are aware Barkley could be sidelined for an extended period.
“Definitely tough to see anyone go down, especially a guy that works as hard as Saquon does,” quarterback Daniel Jones said. “And, you know, we don’t know what it is yet, but certainly keeping our thoughts and prayers with him. He’s a guy that comes to work every day. I know he’ll attack any challenge, and we’re all here to support him. So, yeah, always tough to see a teammate go down.
“I don’t think anyone knows exactly what the injury is or what that sets us up for. So, dealing in hypotheticals right now isn’t the most productive thing. But whatever it is, we’ll respond as a team and do the best we can going forward.”
Barkley wasn’t the only key offensive player to leave the game with an injury. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who led the Giants with 57 catches last season despite missing six games, hurt his toe in the second quarter and did not return.
The unfortunate irony is this was the first game in which the Giants had all their offensive weapons in uniform at the same time. In addition to Barkley and Shepard, wide receivers Golden Tate and Darius Slayton and tight end Evan Engram all played.
“Certainly, a tough break there for us today,” Jones said. “But I know those guys will battle and I think they’ll attack the challenge and we’re excited to support them, and we’ll have guys step up. So whatever the situation is, we’ll attack it and respond as a team.”
Barkley was hurt as he was running right. He gained six yards before cornerback Eddie Jackson came up to stop him, grabbed Barkley high and threw him to the ground. Barkley’s right leg seemed to land awkwardly and as soon as he hit the ground, he grabbed his knee and then removed his helmet.
Barkley did not put weight on his leg as he was helped to the bench area by Judge and assistant athletic trainer Justin Maher. He was placed on a cart and transported to the locker room. The Giants announced Barkley would not return to the game and will undergo an examination on Monday.
“In terms of carrying Saquon off the field that was just simply he’s a big dude and I wanted to make sure we get him over there with the least amount of stress on his leg as possible, and tried to just take the weight off,” Judge said.
Although he had just four carries, Barkley led the Giants Sunday with 28 rushing yards. Wayne Gallman was inactive, so eight-year veteran Dion Lewis took over at running back. He finished with 20 yards on 10 carries, including a one-yarder for the Giants’ only touchdown, and four catches for 36 yards.
Lewis, who joined the team as a free agent on April 1, said he is prepared to take on a larger role if necessary. But for both team and personal reason, he would much prefer it not be at the expense of his friend and teammate.
“He’s Saquon Barkley, so you lose a guy like that, it’s a huge loss,” Lewis said. “But you know, as a team, everybody’s gotta step up. Receivers gotta step up, O-line’s gotta step up, running backs have gotta step up, quarterback’s gotta step up, defense has gotta step up, everybody has gotta step up. It’s not going to be one person who steps up to make up for what he’s done, it’s going to take all of us.”
Lewis said he spoke to Barkley after the game.
“I just told him to keep his head up, stay positive, believe in God,” Lewis said. “Nobody knows what’s really going on right now, so just try to keep his head up. He’s a great kid, and we’ve grown extremely close since I’ve been here, so you know, definitely feel for him.”
Defensive players echoed Lewis’ concern.
“It’s definitely a tough moment,” linebacker Blake Martinez said. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on completely, but I saw him and said, ‘Hey, I’m praying for a quick recovery for whatever it ends up being.’ I hope to see him back as soon as possible.”
“Of course, your heart stops for a minute,” cornerback James Bradberry said. “But we really don’t know the verdict of Saquon’s injury right now, so prayers up to him and we’re hoping for the best.”
Shepard was injured on a 24-yard reception with just eight seconds left in the half. He was stopped by rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson. Shepard returned to the sideline at the start of the second half but soon returned to the locker room.
“Looked like the defensive back landed on his foot at the end of the first half,” Judge said. “He caught that big ball across the middle in that two-minute sequence. He tried to play through it. Obviously, it was something he couldn’t really run full speed on. So, we’ll see what the doctor says.”
The Giants will know much more about the condition of Barkley and Shepard after they are examined on Monday.
Saquon Barkley and his offensive coordinator today delivered figurative stiff arms in response to what has become the media’s issue of the week regarding the Giants: the third-year running back’s pass protection skills.
The tempest was ignited when Tiki Barber – the Giants’ career rushing leader- criticized Barkley for his pass protection.
Barkley, who rushed for six yards and caught six passes in the Giants’ 26-16 season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night, has received criticism for his blocking in the past and he’s not losing sleep after hearing it again.
“Obviously, Tiki is a legend,” Barkley said. “He has done a lot of great things for this franchise. I’m not going to look at it as disrespect; I’m going to look at it as a challenge. Same thing with him, like everyone else, I really don’t care about outside opinions. I’m really focused about the opinions in this building. Try to come to work every single day and get better.”
Barkley said pass protection is just one point of emphasis in practice, because he continually works to elevate all facets of his game.
“I come to work every single day with the mindset, try to improve in everything,” he said. “Focus on the little things. Whatever the drill is, focus on that. If it’s the pass game, focus on catching the ball, if it’s pass pro, if it’s run game, focus on making the run cuts and the right reads. When I’m in the open field work on my moves and work on finishing scoring touchdowns.
“I know this is going to be the question or the kind of the theme of this media session about my pass pro. I understand that I probably made some mistakes in pass pro and I put it on film. I know it’s going to keep coming, people are going to keep challenging me. It’s a good way to keep me in and stop me from getting to open space and making plays there too also. I just have to keep working at it, keep getting better and that’s going to be my same answer for the rest of the pass pro questions.”
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett conceded Barkley’s blocking wasn’t perfect against Pittsburgh, but he fully supports the third-year back.
“Great respect for Tiki, first of all,” Garrett said. “He was a teammate of mine (from 2000-03). I’ve known him for a long time and I really respect him as a person and as a player in this league. Having said that, we really try to focus on what we need to do with our guys and do internal evaluations of how they play.
“One of the things we love about Saquon is his desire to be a complete back. That’s running the football, both inside and outside, as a pass receiver and also as a pass protector. Having said that, he can improve in all areas. That’s something that we like so much about him, is his desire to come in and get better and strive to be a complete back. There were some examples of him blocking well in the passing game the other night. There were some examples of him not blocking as well as he needs to. He knows that. We’re working on that, we’re trying to get him better in that area. But we love his approach, we love his desire to be a complete back, and that’s going to help him and our team going forward.”
Head coach Joe Judge yesterday was the first member of the organization to field a question about Barber’s remarks. And as he most often does, he aimed his response at the team instead of one player.
“Look, we’re all working hard every day to get better at everything we do,” Judge said. “We’re coming out of training camp, we have one game under our belt. There’s not a player or a coach on our team that doesn’t have to improve going into Week 2, and then consistently throughout the season. We have to go ahead and make up some ground quickly. But we have confidence in all of our players. We’re going to work on every technique we have to in all aspects of the game.
“People pay a price to watch us play. Everyone’s opinion is valid if they’re a fan. We have to make sure on the inside we understand what we’re doing and that we prioritize on what we have to work on. But I respect Tiki. Obviously, he’s a guy that knows the game. He’s been a great player for this organization. But we’re going to go ahead and make sure we get everybody rising.”
Though this is not unchartered territory for Barkley, it’s a place he has visited infrequently since his arrival two years ago. The 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is more accustomed to receiving acclaim than negative analysis. He’ll deal with this as he does all games that don’t meet his lofty standards.
“It happened. The game happened,” Barkley said. “I had 15 carries for six yards. I think I tied for the second-lowest (yardage) of all time with 15 carries or more. Guess what? I came to work this week with a smile on my face, ready to work and ready to get better. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you praise me or you say negative things about me. I’m not going to use that motivation because my motivation is to be great myself. I don’t need you guys to push me that way. I need to focus on myself and try building up myself. This week, there’s no extra motivation. There’s no this or that or the third. It’s just try to come in and get the W for the Giants.”
With Giants RB Saquon Barkley fully healthy, many believe he could have a big season for New York in 2020. However, on Monday night, he struggled, and ultimately the Giants would fall to the Steelers 26-16 in the team’s season-opener at MetLife Stadium.
The third-year running back, who struggled with an ankle injury last season, did not have many holes against Pittsburgh’s defense and had 15 carries for only six yards.
“We just have to go back and watch the film and learn,” Barkley said after the game. “Something I’m proud about with the team today is the way we fought, especially when we were hit with adversity. We just have to go back and watch film, continue to believe in each and come ready to work next week and get ready for Chicago.”
Many can blame the offensive line for Barkley’s subpar stats, but according to Barkley, he has to be better.
“I have to be better, I have to be better for the team,” he said. “We have to find a way to get the run game going. That’s how I truly believe. I have to go back and watch film to give you an honest answer. I can’t just talk off of emotions. One thing that just pops in my mind is find a way to get the run game going for this team. I know that’s going to be a key part of our success. I truly believe, and I still believe in it. Keep grinding at it, keep working at it, and find a way.”
While the Giants struggled on the ground against Pittsburgh, head coach Joe Judge believes the team needs to stay aggressive with the run game.
“You know, every week is going to be a little bit of a different challenge based on the scheme we’re going to see, that’s obviously a very talented front we played tonight,” Judge said after the game. “But look, we’re going to stay aggressive with the run game. Saquon is a key part of our team, he’s going to be a difference-maker in how successful this team is going to be, so we’re going to stay with him. We have a lot of confidence in him, I have a tremendous amount of confidence in our offensive line.”
If the Giants want to have a successful season, Barkley and the offensive line will have to play better, but fortunately for New York, it’s only one game. so they have time to clean things up.
For all NFL teams, each game is a collision of good and bad, of highlights to be savored and lowlights to endure. It is a tussle to maximize the positive while striving to eliminate the negative.
So it was for the Giants in their season opener Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They had plenty of moments to build on offensively and defensively, players who performed impressively and plays that would have brought cheering fans out of their seats – had there actually been fans in the seats.
But plenty of disappointing plays also punctuated the Giants’ 26-16 loss in Joe Judge’s coaching debut in empty and silent MetLife Stadium.
Indeed, all the good and the bad were on display in one third-quarter possession, when the Giants traveled 87 yards – from their own nine-yard line to the Pittsburgh four – yet inexplicably and hauntingly scored zero points because Daniel Jones – under pressure from linebacker Bud Dupree – floated a pass to Darius Slayton that was intercepted by defensive tackle Cameron Heyward – the first pick of his 10-year career.
T.J. Watt had intercepted a Jones’ pass in the second quarter and those two turnovers led to nine Steelers points, a not insignificant number in a game decided by 10 points.
“He had two throws I know he wants back. Down at the goal line, that’s something we can’t have happen,” Judge said. “Look, I’ll talk to Daniel a little bit more about it, I’ll watch the tape and make sure we clean up everything involved. That’s definitely something you can’t have, 19-play drive and come away with no points, especially down there in the low red (zone). That’s not acceptable, but I’m proud of the way he played aggressive, I’m proud of the way this team stuck together.”
Jones completed numerous pinpoint passes despite absorbing three sacks and constant pressure from Pittsburgh’s ravenous defense. The numbers were 26-of-41 for 279 yards.
Fellow second-year pro Darius Slayton caught six of those throws for 102 yards and scored both of the Giants’ touchdowns, from 41 and seven yards (the latter with 1:52 remaining and the Giants in catch-up mode). Sterling Shepard and Saquon Barkley also had six catches each.
But Barkley and the running game couldn’t gain traction behind the Giants’ new-look offensive line. He rushed for only six yards on 15 carries. Jones led the team with 22 yards on four attempts.
“I’m not really too concerned with the stats,” Barkley said. “You have to give credit where credit is due. They have a great defense, especially their defensive front. They made some plays and we weren’t able to win the game today.”
Defensively, new middle linebacker and captain Blake Martinez tallied a team-high 12 tackles (eight solo) and linemen Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence registered sacks. But the unit did not force a turnover and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 21 of 32 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns, two to JuJu Smith-Schuster.
“This is a team that makes a lot of explosive plays,” Judge said. “I think [defensive coordinator] Pat [Graham] was able to limit some of the production early on, really do a good job against the run game early on, forced them to be one-dimensional, put a lot of pressure on Ben. That was good for our defense, that limited some of the exposure the guys had. They made adjustments, they’re a good team, they’re going to take some shots down the field. That’s a very talented team, very talented offensive skill group. When you play the Steelers, you have to understand they’re going to make plays.”
The Giants are convinced they should have made more. On the game’s eighth snap, Pittsburgh’s Diontae Johnson muffed a Riley Dixon punt and Devante Downs recovered the ball for the Giants at the Pittsburgh three. Barkley gained one yard before Jones threw a pair of incompletions, forcing Graham Gano to kick his first Giants field goal, a 21-yarder.
After the Steelers tied the score on Chris Boswell’s 41-yard field goal, Slayton beat cornerback Steven Nelson and caught Jones’ perfect strike to put the Giants back on top. The defense forced a three-and-out, but Watt intercepted Jones on the Giants’ first play, leading to Roethlisberger’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Smith-Schuster. Boswell’s extra point try bounced off the right upright and the Giants still held the lead at 10-9.
But they couldn’t hold it until halftime. The Steelers took possession at their own 22 with 1:32 remaining in the second quarter. They never faced a third down as Roethlisberger directed an eight-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 13-yard touchdown pass to James Washington with seven seconds left that gave Pittsburgh a 16-10 lead it never relinquished.
“We have to do better at the end of the half, we have to finish ourselves in the red area, so those are the big things that stuck out right there,” Judge said.
The Giants seemed poised to jump back ahead in the third quarter, when they executed their longest drive in six years. The Giants converted five third downs on the series, the first when Jones hit Slayton for 18 yards on third-and-14 before gaining 15, four and six yards on successive third downs, concluding with a five-yard pass to Sterling Shepard that kept the march moving. Barkley’s longest run of the night, a seven-yarder, left the Giants just four yards from the goal line. But Dupree’s pressure forced Jones to throw while he was falling backwards and Heyward’s interception proved to be a gut punch to the Giants.
“Obviously a play I’d like to have back,” Jones said. “I’d like to have a chance to look at it with the coaches tomorrow and we’ll look into it. That’s a costly mistake there after a long drive, so… you know, something I got to work on and improve on. … We can’t afford those mistakes in those situations.”
After the pick, the Steelers ran 20 plays and scored 10 points while the Giants ran three and punted. The Giants did not score again until the game was virtually out of reach.
“I think as an offense, I thought we did some good things and some not so good things,” Jones said, “and I certainly feel like I played good at times and bad at times.”
He wasn’t alone.