EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry is currently the NFL's third-leading rusher with 1,078 yards, an average of 89.8 a game.
In the three weeks prior to the Titans' game last week against the first-place Eagles, Henry had his lowest three-game output this season, 155 total yards against Green Bay, Cincinnati and Philadelphia (51.7-yard average). Henry sunk even lower in the Titans' 35-14 loss last week, finishing with just 30 yards on 11 carries.
The Giants' Saquon Barkley ranks fourth in the NFL with 1,055 rushing yards. In the last three weeks, he has rushed for 124 yards (41.3 a game), his lowest total in three consecutive games this season. Next up for the Giants: the 11-1 Eagles, who invade MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
Philadelphia clogged the middle and won the battle up front last week. But Barkley noticed another component that led to the Eagles' success in shutting down Henry, a two-time NFL rushing champion.
"The first thing that stood out to me was how the corners were tackling," Barkley said. "(Philadelphia cornerback Darius) Slay and (cornerback James) Bradberry were putting their face in there on a couple of the runs. They did a really good job of establishing the line of scrimmage. That's what football is about. Games are won up front on both sides of the ball. They're really talented up there and they did a really good job of establishing the line of scrimmage, making plays and making tackles they needed to have."
Barkley must evade some of those tackles if the Giants' rushing attack is to return to the level of production it enjoyed early in the season.
In the first seven games, the Giants twice exceeded 235 rushing yards, finished with less than 100 yards just once, and won six times. But in the five games since, they topped 100 yards twice with 191 vs. Houston and 134 last week against Washington. Those are the only two games they did not lose in that stretch, defeating the Texans and tying the Commanders. In losses to Seattle, Detroit and Dallas, they gained 78, 89 and 90 yards, respectively, on the ground.
The Giants are 6-1-1 when they exceed 100 rushing yards and 4-0 when Barkley achieves that feat by himself.
Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka was asked if the dwindling efficiency in the rushing attack is an execution issue or game plan/play-calling issue?
"I think it's a combination of both," Kafka said. "Each week, we go through it, go through our process. What are our favorite runs? What are our favorite looks? Personnel groupings? Really detail all that stuff out. We go with what our guys do best. We go and we practice it, we detail it up, and that's what we end up going with each week."
Barkley is also the team's leading receiver with 40 catches, seven more than No. 2 Darius Slayton. Barkley averages 6.0 yards a reception. And in the last five games, he caught 22 passes for 61 yards, a 2.8-yard average.
The question regarding his production in the pass game is the same as it is in the ground attack: how can the Giants get more out of their most dynamic player?
"Each week, we talk about those things and how we can get him in the most ideal, premier look," Kafka said. "It probably just hasn't shown up as much as we'd probably like to. Those things present themselves each and every week and that's what we look for as a staff – how we can get those things done over and over and over again. That's part of our evaluation process on the week to week."
Barkley seems unworried when asked how the Giants can get him more involved when Daniel Jones throws the ball.
"I'm really not too caught up in that," Barkley said, unintentionally committing a pun. "I'm willing to do whatever the team wants me to do. When the opportunity presents itself, I've got to try to be there and make the plays. That's the only thing I can really focus on. Kafka, Dabs (coach Brian Daboll), all those guys every week find creative ways to not only get myself the ball but put our offense in a spot to be successful. That's the only thing that matters. At the end of the day, as players, we've got to go out there and execute. That's my main focus."
Barkley had 91 receptions in his 2018 Rookie of the Year season and has 230 in his career.
"I think I've shown that in my career, the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield," he said. "But you know, every season, every week is a new challenge and you've got to show something different. So far this season, I really haven't had to be that. There's more physical (play) in-between tackles. Carry the ball 31 times, however many times I've done it so far. Do whatever it takes for the team to win. As the season continues to go on, could that probably be in the near future? You never know. Whatever they ask me to do, go out there, play to the best of my ability and when the play is called, try to make a play for the team."
View photos of Giants running back Saquon Barkley's time with the New York Giants.
*Cornerback Adoree' Jackson today made his first public comments since injuring his knee returning a punt against Detroit on Nov. 20.
"Being out sucks," Jackson said. "To see the guys fight and compete the way that we do, especially them going out there throughout the game. The ones that we lost, the one-score games – Seattle and Detroit, those were the only two-score losses. The ones that we lost were close games. Just the fight and the resiliency at the end of the day. We won those earlier in the season where it was close, and we won at the last second. It just didn't happen as of late. Watching these guys compete, obviously I want to be out there but to see their fight, the morale, the attitude of those guys to keep competing down after down trying to make the guys snap it again. They're going to make plays and I appreciate that."
Does he think he'll return to action this season?
"I want to," he said. "That's the plan with anything that you do. You go out there and work out, rehab. You always give 100 percent but whatever you can do, the extra time in, the little bit this and that to try to get yourself the extra edge to get back ready. That's what I've been doing. Been doing a great job in there and the coaches as well keeping me in tune and in the weight room making sure I got whatever this time table is, to be able to get out there and go do my thing."
*Defensive end Brandon Graham has spent his entire 13-year career with the Eagles. He has 64.5 sacks in 173 regular-season games, including 5.5 this season. Graham was a first-round selection, No. 13 overall, in the 2010 NFL Draft. The Eagles fourth-round choice that year, No. 122 overall, was a quarterback from Northwestern – Mike Kafka.
Kafka played four games and threw 16 passes for the 2011 Eagles. This is his seventh season as a coach, his sixth in the NFL.