How A Stiff Upper Lip and a History Lesson Can Help Saquon Barkley
The pain and wasn't too hard to miss in Saquon Barkley’s face.
“It happened. The game happened,” Barkley said of his 2020 regular-season opener in which he had 15 carries for six yards, which, per ESPN (h/t The Morning Call), tied him for the second-lowest rushing total of a back with 15 or more carries in a game since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
That would prove to be the least of Barkley’s worries as former Giants running back Tiki Barber, who currently holds most of the franchise’s rushing records and who is now paid to offer his expertise on all things NFL, questioned whether Barkley, who in addition to the running game struggles (not all totally his fault, by the way) let his pass blocking issues rear its ugly head again, has what it takes to be an every-down back.
Barber’s criticism aside—and he probably said what a lot of people were thinking—Barkley, for the first time in his short NFL career, looked deflated when he spoke to the media Thursday.
Barkley, who at the tender age of 23 years old is wiser and probably more mentally tough than anyone gives him credit as being, is still very much a generational talent and a guy who this coaching staff tried to get more involved in the passing game. (Barkley caught six of his nine pass targets, tying him with Darius Slayton for the team lead.)
If Barkley is feeling the utmost of doubt in his game, he might want to see if he can get his hands on some legacy game film of a legacy Giants running back by the name of David Meggett, a fifth-round pick who at first no one knew what to make of.
In his six seasons as a Giant (1989-94), Meggett did it all. He averaged 4.5 yards per rushing attempt (1,228 yards on 271 carries) with five touchdowns. He added 155 receptions for 2,194 yards and ten touchdowns.
He returned punts and kickoffs—and was he a dynamic returner with the ball in hands, averaging 10.6 yards per punt return and 20.5 yards per kickoff return during his Giants tenure.
But as a running back, Meggett also completed the picture by proving that he could consistently and effectively get his 5’7” 190-pound frame in front of blitzing linebackers who often outweighed him by 30 or more pounds, and stonewall their attempts to get at the quarterback.
In a 1990 article appearing in the New York Times, an NFC pro personnel director said of Meggett, “When Meggett plays offense, he causes great confusion in defenses. If he's pass blocking and a big linebacker blitzes, he's strong enough to block him. It's not like using a little receiver or a weak-kneed running back to block. And that same linebacker had better not be the one who covers him as a receiver."
The same can be said of Barkley. He has the strength to block the big boys, but it's the consistency that continues to evade him.
Part of the problem has been recognition. When you watch the tape of Barkley whiffing, he almost looks as though he’s confused (it’s perhaps fair to ask if the offensive line is doing what it’s supposed to be).
Barkley's technique has been inconsistent, most notably establishing a base to where he leads with his shoulder. He's also struggled with getting low to the ground, which would allow for a better anchor.
Those things are what made the 5’7” Meggett so effective in slowing down blitzers. Meggett consistently got low to the ground and anchored to where guys bigger than him could barely move him.
The bottom line is Barkley isn't broken beyond repair. As offensive coordinator Jason Garrett noted, while Barkley had some bad plays that were magnified, he also had some good ones that mostly went unnoticed.
"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," Garrett said.
"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."
If running backs coach Burton Burns can get Barkley's technique more consistent, it won't take long before people stop questioning whether Barkley can indeed be that complete player the Giants think he can be.