EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Saquon Barkley has performed numerous amazing feats with his legs, but now he's ready to put the entire Giants' offense on his shoulders.
The team's impressive start this season was largely fueled by a relentless ground attack. The Giants are 6-1 this season when they rush for more than 100 yards, including 4-0 when Barkley exceeds that total.
But Barkley finished with fewer than 60 yards in three of the last four games, interrupted by a 152-yard outing against Houston. Not coincidentally, that was the Giants' only victory during that period.
The 7-4 Giants return home Sunday to face the 7-5 Washington Commanders in the first game of a crucial two-week homestand. First-place Philadelphia visits next week.
Running the ball effectively is a goal every week, but particularly this time of year when footballs get slick and wind gusts in MetLife Stadium can turn even a short pass into an adventure. Barkley said it's up to him to make it happen.
"It starts with me," Barkley said. "Continue to constantly trust the system, make sure I'm in good relationships with the linemen and sticking with the run. That's the way we won games this year, so a lot of teams are going to come in and try to stop that, that's their focal point. There's been teams prior to the last two weeks that came in and that was their focal point, and we were able to still get the run game going and lean on it. We've just got to get back to that and everyone else kind of make plays when the plays need to be made. And it starts with me."
Barkley ran for a season-low 22 yards vs. Detroit and 39 at Dallas and the team totaled 89 and then 90 rushing yards in those two games.
The Giants began the season by running for at least 103 yards in each of their first five games. They twice exceeded 200 yards on the ground in that period and later ran for 236 yards vs. Baltimore and 191 against Houston. The question is how they find their way back to that level of production.
"I think it's a combination of trusting it, all of us – players and coaches trusting it – executing it, getting the right fundamentals and techniques," offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said. "That'll just come with the work. I think we can clean up a lot of those things that we've been missing the last couple of weeks."
That will be challenging to do against the Commanders, who have one of the NFL's most formidable defensive fronts. Washington is eighth in the league in run defense, allowing 108.4 yards a game. The Commanders have allowed fewer than 100 rush yards in three of the last four games and only one individual 80-yard rusher this season: two-time NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry of Tennessee needed 28 carries to gain 102 yards on Oct. 2.
"They've got some other good players in there," coach Brian Daboll said. "Two Bama (University of Alabama) guys inside. I was with (defensive tackle Daron) Payne for that one year (2017). (Defensive tackle Johnathan) Allen. (Defensive end Montez) Sweat. They're challenging on both fronts. They don't give up a lot of points. They haven't given up a lot of points here in the last eight weeks or six and seven. I think they play physical style football."
The Commanders are expected to welcome back defensive Chase Young, the 2020 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year who has not played this season after tearing his ACL last year.
The Giants also expect to benefit from the return of key players, including center Jon Feliciano, who did not play in Dallas because of a neck injury, and right tackle Evan Neal, who missed the previous four games with a knee injury.
"Evan, he's a house, he's a freak of nature, he's a heck of a player," Barkley said. "Obviously, he's young, he's a rookie, but you couldn't tell that when he's in the game. Him, (center) Jon (Feliciano), we're getting a lot of people back and that's a blessing."
Perhaps getting two starters back on the field will help Barkley and the rushing attack return to their early-season level of production.
"I think as a running back, you love running the football," Barkley said. "But especially with those guys up there who are gritty, they're tough, they finish their blocks, and that's where the running game is won. It starts up front. You've got to dominate the line of scrimmage and we're going against a tough task with four first rounders over there. The whole defense from every level, they're really talented.
"So it's going to be a tough task, it's a tough task in the NFL. We know their focal point is going to be to try to stop the run and we've just got to continue to lean on it, lean on each other, trust each other. First and foremost, with me, when there are opportunities, I've got to make the big plays."
The Giants are counting on it.
Once again, the New York Giants are bringing back their classic blue uniforms from the '80s and '90s this Sunday as part of two Legacy Games presented by Quest.
*Daboll began his news conference today with a brief statement about the Giants' meeting last night with free agent wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr.
"I know you guys will have a lot of questions, I'm sure, about Odell, and here's what I'd say about that," Daboll said. "We had dinner with him last night. We had a good visit. Really other than that, I have nothing else to add. My focus is on Washington."
Asked if the door is open or closed to signing Beckham, Daboll said, "I'll just say we had a good dinner."
*Rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger is expected to play Sunday after missing four games with an eye injury he suffered in Jacksonville on Oct. 23. What's the biggest hurdle he faces after sustaining an unusual injury that required surgery to fix a fractured orbital bone?
"He really had to get adjusted to the visor," tight ends coach Andy Bischoff said. "That was probably the adjustment, to the visor. Is it too dark? Is it not dark enough? All those things. But he has been running around. I've been giving him grief that he's been gone for seven weeks, and he's been gone for four. And he's doing a great job. I've had fun with him. He's been running around. His fitness level is great.
"And actually, his aptitude is even higher than it was four weeks ago. He knows what we're doing at a better level. It's almost like the guy got four bye weeks of mental growth. We would've loved to have him physically, but he took no mental vacation, which was wonderful. He wasn't rusty. He was sharp. And he is sharp. He continues to be."
*Starting cornerbacks Adoree' Jackson (knee) and Fabian Moreau (oblique muscle) did not play in Dallas because of their injuries.
"Anytime you lose a starting corner, it's painful," defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson said. "And then the last couple weeks when you lose two, it's really painful. That room has done a really good job of next man just stepping up and being ready to go and going out there and giving us his all. And again, that room has done a really good job of pulling that next guy with them and saying, 'Okay, let's go.' Adoree' has done a great job of talking to and coaching and helping the next guy. And (defensive coordinator) Wink (Martindale) does a great job week-to-week of putting guys in position to give us our best chance to win. We're going to try to do that again this week, put the guys in position to give us our best chance to win."
*Sunday's contest will be the second of the Giants' two legacy games this season (they defeated Chicago in the first on Oct. 2). The team will wear the uniform worn from 1980-1999, an era the Giants won Super Bowls XXI and XXV. The uniforms include a navy-blue helmet with a white GIANTS decal. A classic pennant will be distributed to the first 30,000 fans on Sunday, courtesy of Quest.
*The Giants announced three players will not play Sunday because of injury: Jackson (knee) and offensive linemen Joshua Ezeudu (neck) and Shane Lemieux (toe).
Nine players are questionable: wide receivers Darius Slayton (illness) and Richie James (knee); Bellinger (eye); running back Gary Brightwell (illness); center Jon Feliciano (neck); defensive backs Moreau (oblique), Holmes (shoulder) and Dane Belton (clavicle); and linebacker Carter Coughlin (thigh).
Slayton did not practice today. The other eight players listed as questionable were limited.