It’s better late than never, but it looks like the New York Giants have figured out the magic formula that makes their offense tick.
Within a game of dizzying routes, expansive playbooks and calls that will make your head spin, it was actually quite a simple idea when taking a step back and looking at things plainly. All head coach Pat Shurmur had to do was give rookie running back Saquon Barkley the ball.
“We’re starting to figure out that the offense runs through him,” veteran quarterback Eli Manning said after the Giants’ 40-16 win over the Washington Redskins. “We’ve had good running attacks but it’s been a little while. It’s good to have it back.”
Go back six weeks and the Giants’ 20-13 Week 8 loss to the Redskins was the fifth time during the 2018 season in which they failed to score 20 points or more. At 1-7 and entering a bye week, the season was over and dysfunction reigned supreme.
During that eight-game stretch that saw the Giants rely on a passing game that featured Manning running for his life behind an offensive line that offered no protection while a superstar receiver in Odell Beckham Jr. wasn’t being utilized enough, the rookie out drafted second overall averaged just under 14 carries per game. Granted, he became Manning’s No. 1 passing option just because there wasn’t enough time for routes downfield to develop.
He was still putting up impressive numbers as he was averaging over 120 yards from scrimmage during the first half of the season. Yet the 64.9 rushing yards per game left plenty to be desired as the Giants had to continuously rely on the passing game as they constantly played from behind. The Week 8 debacle against the Redskins was one of Barkley’s worst games as a pro as he was limited to just 38 rushing yards on 13 carries.
The bye week brought another tweak to a constantly-changing offensive line as Jamon Brown was introduced at right guard, a spot originally inhabited by the now-released Ereck Flowers and a change in the playcalling philosophy.
Barkley began getting far more touches on the ground and the Giants offense started clicking as a result. In games where he carries the ball 20 or more times, the Giants are 3-0. They’re 2-0 when he rushes past the 140-yard mark.
Week 10 against the San Francisco 49ers saw Barkley rush the ball a career-high 20 times as the Giants squeaked out a win against the hapless San Francisco 49ers.
He eclipsed that mark the next week against another bad team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with 27 rushes for 142 yards and three total touchdowns in a 38-35 win that provided the team’s first winning streak of the year.
It all came crashing down the following game in Week 12 against the Eagles. Shurmur made his largest mistake as Giants head coach, virtually benching Barkley in the second half after he ripped through the Philadelphia defense for 127 yards during the opening 30 minutes. With a 19-3 first-half lead in hand, Shurmur called Barkley’s number just five times in the second half as the Giants offense was held to 56 yards. By no coincidence, the Giants blew the lead and lost as Barkley was limited to just 13 carries for 101 yards on the day.
While Shurmur has proven that he has plenty of work to do before being considered a good head coach, it looks like he’s learned from that mistake. He proceeded to give Barkley the ball 24 times against one of the league’s best defenses in the Chicago Bears in Week 13 before feeding him plenty in the first half against the Redskins on Sunday, both wins.
Barkley’s second outing against the Redskins was far more impressive as he put up 159 of his career-high 170 rushing yards in the first half. It included runs of 78 (which went for a touchdown) and 52 yards as he helped rip apart Washington’s seventh-ranked defense for 34 points in the first half.
The ever-modest Barkley though was quick to point out that his successes are a byproduct of the decisions made around him.
“I think that bye week really helped us figure it out,” he said. “Whether you play good or bad, [fans and media] are going to have something good or bad to say about you anyway. Just focus on each other.”
Now with three weeks left in the season, Barkley has already put together one of the best opening seasons in franchise history as he’s set rookie records in rushing yards, scrimmage yards, rushing touchdowns, 100-yard rushing games, receptions by a running back, receiving yards by a running back and total touchdowns.
That lengthy list is all the evidence needed that Barkley is the man the Giants offense revolves around from now on.