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Notebook: Saquon Barkley gears up for running back duel with Texans' Dameon Pierce

SAQUON-BARKLEY

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' offensive strength will have an opportunity to attack the Houston Texans' primary defensive weakness when the teams meet Sunday in MetLife Stadium.

Will the home team be able to take advantage and win its seventh game, or will the 1-6-1 Texans find a way to stop Saquon Barkley and pull off a surprise result?

The Giants have the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing offense, averaging 161.5 yards a game. Barkley is third in the league in both rushing yards (779) and yards-per-game (97.4).

The Houston defense that will try to stop him has not fared nearly as well. The Texans rank 32nd and last in the NFL in run defense, allowing 180.6 yards a game. That is 32 yards more per game than the next worst team, the Detroit Lions (whom the Giants host next week).

"That doesn't mean anything," Barkley said. "I don't really read into that – to the numbers. Obviously, statistically their rush defense is not up there. It's not the highest. Seattle, when we played Seattle, their rush defense wasn't up there. It wasn't the highest. They did a really good job of game planning and scheming the run (holding the Giants to a season-low 78 rushing yards).

"Every week, it's a new challenge. It's the NFL; there's a lot of good players over there. They got a talented team – great coach. Great scheme. You got to take it – take every week (as) a new opportunity and a new challenge to get better. That's the main focus."

The Texans have allowed the two-highest rushing yardage totals in the NFL this season: 314 against Tennessee on Oct. 30 (when Derrick Henry ran for 219 yards) and 281 yards at Chicago on Sept. 25. The third game on that list is the Bears' giving up 262 rushing yards on Oct. 2 – to the Giants and Barkley, who ran for 146 yards.

Defensive tackle Meliek Collins – who mans what coach Lovie Smith calls "the most important position" on the defense - missed the last two-plus games with a chest injury. Not coincidentally, the Raiders, Titans and Eagles ran for a combined 621 yards. Collins is listed as questionable for Sunday.

These numbers might indicate the Giants own the advantage, but you'll never convince coach Brian Daboll of that.

"I think anytime you look at the stats and where everybody is, you just think, 'Boy, this team should run, this team has trouble stopping it,'" Daboll said. "Each week, you're trying to improve - I'll speak for our team - on things we're not doing as well. And you anticipate that from every other team. There's going to be extra guys down in the box. There has been the whole year. We're going to have to do a good job of blocking them, blocking the stuff that they do, which they create some problems, too.

"I know they've given up some big ones. Henry had some big ones (runs of 41, 30 and 29 yards). Henry made three guys miss in the hole. He could have been tackled for a two-yard gain. Instead, it goes for 40 yards. So, running with the ball well. Making people miss in space, handling their movement – which they move a bunch. They've got some quick guys up front. They've got some good veterans, too, that know how to do it. Every week's a challenge regardless. I don't get involved in 'This team ranks here. This team ranks here,' because each week's different. You'd like to do what you do well, and sometimes that doesn't happen. You have to have an answer to, 'Hey. They have so many guys down there, we just can't get it going.' You better be able to pass it and run it based on how they play and how you're playing, too."

View photos from practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 10 matchup against the Houston Texans.

As Daboll noted, opposing defenses have committed extra defenders to stop the Giants' rushing attack all season. Seattle succeeded using that tactic in its two-touchdown victory on Oct. 30. Barkley believes the Giants can turn it to their advantage.

"The beauty of having more people in the box – the safeties, they're a little tired," he said. "Once you get past a certain level, there's really no one else back there. So, you've got to capitalize on that. But that's really not up to me. The coaches are going to continue to do a great job of doing creative things to put the ball in our playmakers hands to make plays – especially when D.J. (quarterback Daniel Jones) can make plays with his feet and when we get down the field and start getting passes together on the drive and be a little more consistent on the drive, the run game is going to continue to open up. It's a balance. We've got to balance each other, and that's something we look forward to doing in the second half of the season."

The unit that can place the most significant obstacles to the Giants' seemingly obvious path to victory is Houston's offense. Though not highly rated (28th with 290.5 yards a game and 29th with an average of 16.6 points a game), the Texans have their own standout running back in rookie Dameon Pierce.

A fourth-round draft choice from Florida, Pierce leads all first-year players and is sixth in the league with 678 rushing yards and is fifth with 84.8 yards a game. He had season-high totals of 27 carries and 139 yards in the Texans loss last week to Philadelphia.

Pierce has certainly grabbed the attention of defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.

"I don't know who said something to him or did something to him to make him so angry, but that might be the angriest runner in the league," Martindale said. "I'll give you my comparisons again: old, old school, Earl Campbell, Jamal Lewis. He's one of those big (218-pound) power backs that has great balance. Runs mad every time he touches it. Has quick feet. It's going to be (a) tough assignment.

"He's a throwback running back. I wish I wasn't playing him because it would be fun just to watch him. He's that type of runner. He's tough as nails."

Cornerback Adoree' Jackson is one of numerous Giants defenders who have been impressed watching tape of Pierce.

"I compare him a little bit to (Las Vegas Raiders running back) Josh Jacobs (who gained 132 of his 143 rushing yards after Collins exited the game in the first quarter of their game on Oct. 23) – how strong and hard and powerful he was," Jackson said. "He just doesn't want to get down. He's out there just making people miss and running hard and getting those extra yards. To be a rookie, he's done a great job out there with that ball."

*The bye week was good for the Giants' health. Only two players, both rookies, have been declared out of the game vs. Houston on Sunday, tight end Daniel Bellinger (eye) and right tackle Evan Neal (knee).

Three players are listed as questionable: wide receiver Kenny Golladay (who missed the last four games with a knee injury), linebacker Oshane Ximines (sidelined two games with a quad injury) and cornerback Cor'Dale Flott (out three games with a calf injury).

View rare photos of the all-time history between the New York Giants and Houston Texans.

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