This past Sunday, the Giants' big win came as Daniel Jones had one of his best games for Big Blue. The offense looked dynamic and featured many of the weapons that many people wanted to see featured in and outside of the organization.
What should not be lost is that running back Saquon Barkley also had a breakout game for him this season. Make no mistake, Barkley is the straw that stirs the drink in New York.
When he is right, the offense feeds off of him. We have seen signs that he is returning to the form that made him one of the most dangerous backs in the NFL, but you could also see that he was not fully confident in his explosion or in his ability to cut off his repaired right knee.
What makes Barkley unique is his ability to change directions and explode. When he is right, he resembles a video game in the way he is able to dart in and out then explode to get through creases or run away from defenders. Sunday at New Orleans, you could see signs of that Barkley on the field, and the results were noticeable.
"Everyone is going to ask me about my knee, but like I said, I just keep trusting people--the trainers and all the people I talk to knowing that every single day, I got to keep going in there and keep working with it," Barkley said when asked what showed him that he was back.
The running, cutting on a dime, and powering his way through the tackle box as efficiently as he did Sunday were all huge signs of Barkley's return to his old self.
And his impact on the offense wasn't hard to miss either--the play-action passing game was more convincing, the running game was consistent, and his ability as a receiver opened things up for himself and others.
Let’s look at a few plays that illustrate his ability to make cuts and his explosion.
This first clip shows Barkley after receiving a dump-off pass with a defender in his face. He is able to stick his foot in the ground and spin away from the tackle the first time, and he almost avoids the same defender a second time before three other defenders show up and corral him.
There is no gain on this play, but it speaks to Barkley's confidence in his lower body to react without thinking and make movements that feel natural to his body.
The second clip is a zone run to the left. After three steps forward, Barkley realizes there is no lane to burst through. He puts on the brakes and hops to his left, where he has to quickly make another cut to avoid a defender coming in to tackle him full speed.
He is then able to make a third subtle adjustment while running full speed to his right to pick up a few more yards. He turned a play that should have netted no gain into an eight-yard run.
Here the Giants are a running power lead to the left. A crease may be the only hole a back is promised; they open and close extremely fast.
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Barkley follows his right guard, who is pulling, and the fullback leading through the hole, but as more black shirts flash, he sticks his right foot in the ground and explodes through the crease to gain an extra 10-12 yards on the play.
He might not have made it through that hole if he did not have confidence in that knee. If you look back to Week 1, he probably would not have exploded.
Barkley is lined up wide here and explodes off the ball, which catches the defender off guard. It could be that the defender was surprised when Barkley was on top of him so quickly.
When Barkley catches the pass and runs down the sideline, he is able to make one of those signature full-speed cuts and blows by the safety. From there, it is a foot race to the end zone, and Barkley outruns a defender. A couple of weeks ago, he was unable to outrun a defender when he broke into the open field.
His ridiculous footwork and ability to improvise were on display in this next clip as he was stumbling when Jones decided to pass him the ball. He not only catches the pass but then performs a looping spin move and second spin to avoid two defenders.
Yes, he lost the ball, but you know he feels good about himself and confident in his legs if he is even willing to attempt moves like this.
Finally, on his game-winning touchdown run, he shows the world just how explosive he can be. Although it is only six yards, the level of athleticism to do what he does here only a very few backs in the NFL possess.
He gets the handoff in the backfield and is immediately met by a blitzing linebacker that the center doesn’t identify, and the left guard is unable to pick up. He jump cuts to his right, avoiding the lunging defender.
He then sees that his right tackle has a defender sealed outside, so he jump-cuts forward into the would-be waiting arms of a Saints’ defender but avoids that tackle by jump-cutting to his left and lets his momentum drive him into the end zone as a defender wraps him up.
What’s so impressive is that those three jump cuts happened in about a second with no time to set up the next move. They were clearly instinctual and based on Barkley’s ability to load and explode, similar to a cat pouncing around for prey.
Barkley sets the tone for this offense, and coming into this season, many wondered if he would return to the form he enjoyed pre-injury. It seems clear that if he is not there yet, he is certainly trending towards it.
With Daniel Jones taking care of the football and multiple receiving options at receiver and tight end, a healthy and explosive Barkley could give the Giants enough offensively to compete for an NFC East title.
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