If there was such a thing as a rookie wall for Saquon Barkley, he must have hurdled it.
The second overall draft pick is only picking up the pace as the Giants enter the fourth quarter of their season. Barkley has reached 100 yards from scrimmage in 11 games this season, two short of tying Eric Dickerson’s record for most by a rookie in NFL history. Within those are three consecutive games with 100 solely on the ground, and he’ll look to make it four this Sunday against another top-10 rushing defense in Washington.
“I’m not really worried about the rookie wall at all,” said Barkley, who is third in the NFL in both rushing yards and scrimmage yards. “I really don’t believe in it, to be honest. I don’t even know what it is, to be honest. I don’t know what to believe in. Maybe I did hit a rookie wall and I didn’t know, but if it has anything to do with how your body’s feeling or getting out of bed, I haven’t felt that yet. My mindset is just wake up every single day, try to stay on my routine, surround yourself with the right people to take care of your body, whether it’s inside the facility or outside the facility, and grind and go out on Sundays and play your tail off for your teammates.”
Those teammates, especially the offensive linemen, have done the same and played a part in tearing down any rookie wall. The line has not changed since the bye week, which directly followed the Giants’ first meeting with the Redskins in Week 8. In that game, the Giants allowed seven sacks and rushed for only 37 yards. The 20-13 loss dropped them to 1-7 on the season. Coming out of the break, the Giants have won three of four games, while the Redskins lost three of four in that span.
“Yeah, our offensive line is playing at a very high level these last couple weeks,” Barkley said. “For the last three games, we’ve been able to run over 100 yards. That’s directly towards them and a credit towards them. They’re playing very confident, the chemistry is high there, and that’s what we kind of didn’t have going into the last time we played the Redskins. Hopefully they can have an impact on this game and set the tone from the line of scrimmage.”
From left to right, Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, Spencer Pulley, Jamon Brown and Chad Wheeler have been the winning combination up front. Earlier in the week, coach Pat Shurmur said he thinks it is sustainable in the long-term, citing the value of continuity. The group will add another notch on Sunday.
“It was a tough day against [the Redskins in Week 8], but I think we’re better, for sure,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “It’s mainly because of the consistency. Those guys in the lineup now have been playing next to each other for a while and getting more confidence, as well as the rest of the skill players.”
Shula added: “It’s probably a little overstated when you’re talking about the line struggling. I think it’s collectively we’ve struggled, but also they’ve done a lot of good things that probably just go unnoticed, and Saquon is very talented, as we know. I think it works hand-in-hand. I think he’s helped them become better, and I think because of that, now they’ve got more confidence and they’re helping him gain more yards.”
Sunday’s trip to FedExField will complete Barkley’s first run through the NFC East road venues. He had 102 yards from scrimmage at AT&T Stadium in his second professional game, and 142 with two touchdowns at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 12. Barkley, a Penn State product who routinely played in front of 100,000 fans at home and on the road in the Big Ten, senses the intensity rise in the divisional road matchups.
“From the fans, I would say a little bit more, especially when you go to a place like Philadelphia,” Barkley said. “It’s crazy how you walk out and see little kids cursing you out, it’s crazy. Dallas, that was Sunday Night Football, primetime, so the energy there was ridiculous, too. I guess you could say you can see the difference, especially with Philly and the Cowboys, but for us, it’s just another game. Obviously you’re aware that it’s a divisional game, but the way that we approach it, your guys come in there and just execute when it comes down to X’s and O’s and play better football than them, and try to come out with the win.”
Back up. How little were those little kids cursing him out?
“[They] weren’t directly cursing me out, but you just see them when you run out there,” Barkley said. “They were probably nine, I don’t know the age, but I’ve heard stories about Philly fans and growing up in the Lehigh Valley area, you know how serious the Philly fans are. My dad told me a story he was wearing a Giants hat and a Philly fan tried to take his hat off, and my dad was like, ‘What are you doing?’ So I guess you could say you see the intensity more when you go to divisional games on the road, but that’s really it. I haven’t heard any stories about Washington, I don’t know how crazy their fans are, but I know it’s going to be a good environment. It’s going to be a fun game and we’re going to do whatever we can do to come out with a win.”
While the Giants have not been eliminated from the postseason, they will likely play the role of spoiler the rest of the way in the NFC East. Of course, closing out the game in Philadelphia would have made things a lot more interesting.
“Part of you does [think about what could have been], not because you’re thinking about the future but we were playing at a high level,” Barkley said. “In the last four games, we’ve been 3-1 and you can’t complain about that, but you want to be 4-0 in those last games. That game was similar to the Carolina Panthers game where we had it and we let it slip out of our hands. You’ve got to give credit to the Eagles during that game where they did a really good job, especially in the second half, of controlling the ball and just playing better, just as a whole. Yeah, that one sucks.
“Obviously, part of you wants to look back and say we let that one slip away, but you can’t focus on that. You’ve got to move on, and we did. We moved on, we came out and played a tremendous Chicago Bears team, had a slow start on offense in the first half, defense played lights out, and even though Chicago was able to come back and fight, we found a way to win, which we didn’t do prior to that week. I think we definitely learned from that lesson.”
*Running back Jonathan Stewart’s three-week practice period has expired, meaning he will remain on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. Stewart, an 11-year veteran and first-year Giant, played in the season’s first three games before being placed on injured reserve with a foot injury. He was designated for return last month, which opened a three-week window in which the Giants had to make the decision of whether or not to place him on the active roster.
*The Giants placed Landon Collins on injured reserve after it was determined that the two-time Pro Bowl safety must undergo surgery to repair a partially-torn labrum. The Giants’ leading tackler for the past three seasons suffered the injury in their overtime victory against Chicago. Undrafted rookie Sean Chandler will be featured in the mix to replace Collins.
“I think I can bring in just a lot of enthusiasm to my teammates, just give them some juice,” Chandler said. “Just go out there and play football, nothing more. … It’s not intimidating. Football is football. I’ll attack everything like I usually do.”
*Veteran defensive back and special teams co-captain Michael Thomas is the team’s 2018 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominee. The award recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field as well as excellence on the field. Each of the 32 teams has a Man of the Year who is eligible to win the league award. In 2016, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was named a co-winner, becoming the first Giants player to receive the award in its 48-year history.