Mark in New York: What are your expectations for Saquon Barkley this year since it is his third season and Jason Garrett's history of having productive running backs in his offenses?
John Schmeelk: Saquon Barkley has a chance to lead the NFL in both rushing and scrimmage yards this season. Will he? It will depend on how well the Giants play. If they are leading in a lot of games and can continue to run the ball, his carries and overall rushing numbers will be better. He should manage to be productive in the passing game, no matter what.
Ezekiel Elliott was fourth in the league in rushing in 2019 (second in attempts), and first in yards and attempts in 2018 and 2016 despite only playing 15 games each year. In 2017, he only played 10 games but led the league in rushing yards per game (as he did in 2016 and 2018) and averaged 24 carries a game. Elliott has also caught 131 passes the last two years and finished second in yards from scrimmage in three of his four years in Dallas. Garrett is going to put the ball in Barkley's hands a lot.
You want me to guess his numbers? Barkley will rush the ball 280 times for 1,447 yards, catch 68 passes for 617 yards and have 12 total touchdowns. His 2,064 yards from scrimmage will be second in the league, trailing only Christian McCaffrey.
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Levi in New York: Even though interior defensive linemen like Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, and B.J. Hill won't get a lot of sacks, shouldn't their presence clog up the middle, stop the run, and push the pocket to make it easier for the team's edge rushers to get to the quarterback more?
John Schmeelk: That's the plan, Levi. While the outside rushers control the width of the pocket, the inside rushers control the depth of the pocket. If they push the interior of the pocket, it doesn't allow the quarterback to step up to avoid outside pressure. If there is penetration inside, it can chase the quarterback outside, create better angles for outside rushers or push the quarterback into the arms of an edge rusher who didn't win at the line of scrimmage.
If that interior group stops the run, it will set up more third and long opportunities that will allow defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to dial up aggressive blitz packages. Better play on early downs against the run will create more opportunities for getting off the field on third down.
George in Florida: Do you think the Giants missed an opportunity in the draft to improve their wide receiver corps? Do they have enough playmakers outside to prevent teams from bringing extra players into the box to stop Saquon Barkley?
John Schmeelk: I think they do. I've seen a lot of criticism of the Giants wide receivers corps, and I don't understand it. Golden Tate had 676 yards last year, but it was because he only played in 11 games. If you prorate that to 16 games, he would have finished with 983 yards. Darius Slayton didn't secure a full-time role until Week 7. From that point on, he averaged 57 yards per game, which puts him at 912 for a full season. Sterling Shepard, despite missing 11 games in his four-year career, has never had fewer than 57 catches or 576 yards (both in just 10 games last year). It's important to remember the type of weapons Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram can be in the passing game.
The question defenses will have to ask themselves is this: is it worth the risk of playing single high safety, and some man to man defense to stop the run? I believe the Giants have the receiving weapons to burn defenses that do that too frequently. All of the receivers, including Engram and Barkley, can win one on one. Engram and Barkley are legitimate matchup problems for opposing linebackers.
The Giants may not have that one receiver that will catch 100 passes or gain 1,500 yards, but they have enough weapons who are athletic enough and good enough route runners to win and make defenses think twice about over-committing against the run game. They will have to prove it early in the season when defenses will stack the box to slow down Barkley.