Saquon Barkley is the most dominant rookie running back since Adrian Peterson
John Schmeelk - Fiction: Giants fans might not like this answer, but Barkley’s season is not as good as Ezekiel Elliott’s in 2016. The rushing production is not close, which to me is what designates a running back as “dominant.” In Elliott’s rookie year, he ran for 1,631 yards, averaged over 100 yards per game, caught 32 passes and scored 16 touchdowns. Barkley is on pace for about 1,100 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Barkley’s receiving game certainly evens out the competition (49 catches, 424 yards), but when I see “dominant rookie running back”, I think rushing the football and Barkley falls short there.
Dan Salomone - Fact. Barkley is on pace for 2,069 yards from scrimmage, which would be a top-50 season in NFL history, let alone for rookies. Oh, and he is also on track for 16 touchdowns. But numbers don’t tell the entire story. The eyeball test proves this one. He is making grown men who play football for a living look like college players. And that was his one question mark, which you had to dig deep for in the draft process. Would his raw play-making ability, including the hurdling and juking, translate to the NFL? It has.
But don’t take my word for it. Take it from the three-time rushing champ. “He’s the guy that stands out a little more than what I’ve seen in the past few years,” Peterson told Redskins reporters this week, via ESPN’s John Keim. “Todd Gurley is a guy that has great potential as well. He falls in that same category, but they’re two different styles of players. I would say the biggest thing is one is just more elusive. Which one is that? [Barkley].” He added: “That doesn’t happen every year or even two or three or four years that type of talent comes around.”
Lance Medow - Fiction: There have been several running backs who have had stellar rookie seasons since Peterson, including Ezekiel Elliott in 2016. The Cowboys’ running back actually had better numbers than AP as a rookie as Elliott collected more rushing yards (1,631-1,341), rushing touchdowns (15-12), receptions (32-19) and receiving yards (363-268). Before you start pointing to games played as a potential factor, let me save you the trouble. Elliott appeared in just one more game (15-14) than Peterson as a rookie, and keep in mind Zeke’s numbers could have been even more impressive given he was a healthy scratch in Week 17 that season because the Cowboy had already clinched a first-round bye. In 2016, Elliott led the NFL in rushing as a rookie, finished third in the league in rushing touchdowns, and his 464 yards after contact ranked fourth among all backs. Plus, he made the Pro Bowl and was named first-team All-Pro. If that doesn’t classify as dominance, then I don’t know what to tell you.
Following this week’s trades, Dalvin Tomlinson is the player you’re most interested to see on defense.
John Schmeelk - Fiction: Even though Tomlinson will be moving over to play nose tackle, I still have a very good feeling for what he can do. He will be very good against the run, and will keep trying to reduce the depth of the pocket in the pass rush. I have no doubt he’ll be fine in the same spot he played at Alabama. I want to see Lorenzo Carter continue to get more play as a pass rusher. He needs to have a more consistent plan and stick with it to get to the quarterback.
Dan Salomone - Fact: With all of the offseason action, Tomlinson didn’t get much attention outside of the building as he entered his second season. He has started every game since the Giants drafted him in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft – the Giants’ longest active starts streak, by the way – so it’s not like he is being thrust onto the big stage or anything. But it does give him and guys like B.J. Hill more of a stake in the defense. I’m interested to see if he can make a jump from reliable starter to play-maker.
Lance Medow - Fact: We already know what type of player Dalvin Tomlinson is given his strong rookie season in 2017, but most of that production came with Snacks right by his side, whether it was in a 4-3 alignment or 3-4 scheme. Now, Tomlinson has to fill the shoes of Snacks. I’m not saying Tomlinson is incapable of being productive without Snacks, but lining up next to one of the best run stoppers in the league is a nice luxury to have each and every game day. Don’t overlook the fact that offenses will also now change their strategy on how they attack the Giants without Snacks in the mix.
5 players to watch vs. Redskins
Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants conclude the first half of the season on Sunday
The winner on Sunday will have under 24 points.
John Schmeelk - Fact: I think this is going to be an ugly, low-scoring affair. The Redskins defense ranks fifth in the NFL in yards, and third against the run. Their defensive front does an excellent job attacking the quarterback and making it difficult to score. They play a lot of man-to-man defense, which should open up some windows for big plays for the Giants, but only if they can protect. The Redskins offense, on the other hand, is not explosive. They rely on the run, play-action, protecting the football and the short passing game. This is a 20-17 or so game.
Dan Salomone - Fact: Last week felt like an air-it-out type of game, but the Falcons won with only 23 points as the teams combined for over 850 yards. For the Giants, the yards didn’t translate to points because of the red zone. The good news is that while Washington has many strengths as a defense, inside the 20 isn’t one of them. The Redskins are just 26th in that category, while the Giants’ defense is sixth. So whichever team wins the red zone will probably emerge as the winner, but Washington scores only 21 points per game, while Big Blue averages 19.6.
Lance Medow - Fact: When you look at the stats, that statement certainly isn’t a stretch, especially since the Redskins won each of their last two games with under 24 points (20 against Dallas in Week 7, 23 vs. Carolina the previous week). Washington is averaging 21 points per game, while the Giants at 20, and on defense, the Redskins are surrendering just 20 points per contest with the Giants at 26. The Giants have managed to score more than 24 points just twice in seven games this season (Week 3 at Houston - 27, Week 5 at Carolina - 31). Until both teams show they can convert in the red zone and put points on the board consistently, it’s hard to go fiction here.
Pass protection will be more important than run blocking vs. Washington’s front.
John Schmeelk - Fact: I hate to choose here because both are going to be extremely important. If you don’t block in the run game, the Giants are going to be in third and long all day long, which will be a death knell for the offense. I went with the pass blocking, however, because if you do protect in the passing game, then Giants wide receivers will have the chance to win in one on one, man on man situations against a set of cornerbacks that I don’t think cover well enough to prevent big plays. The result could be a ton of chunk plays that can go for scores, which is probably the most realistic way for the Giants to score in this game.
Dan Salomone - Fiction: The Redskins have given up more than 81 yards on the ground just three times this season, but they lost two of them. We saw what they were able to do against Carolina and most recently Dallas, two of the best rushing teams in the league. Coaches always have to weigh the cost and benefit of trying to attack the strength of the opponent vs. finding a weakness to exploit. I think Pat Shurmur wants more of a run-pass balance, which would open up the play-action and get the ball down the field.
Lance Medow - Fact: The Redskins rank third in the NFL against the run. They’re allowing just 87 yards per game. Based on that stat, you’d think the response to this statement would be an easy fiction. However, much like the Eagles, Washington has a great deal of depth on the defensive line and that group is relentless at getting after the quarterback. Last week at home against the Cowboys, the Redskins gave Dak Prescott and the Dallas offensive line all kinds of problems. Washington recorded four sacks and nine quarterback hits. If the Giants don’t protect Eli Manning, run blocking won’t make a huge difference given they’ll likely find themselves in unfavorable down and distances. Pass protection has to be the top priority.