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Notebook: Saquon Barkley looking to bounce back vs. Commanders

SAQUON-BARKLEY

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – By any objective criteria, Saquon Barkley is having an outstanding 2022 season.

The fifth year running back leads the Giants in both rushing yards (1,083) and receptions (42). His rushing yardage total is the NFL's fourth highest. Barkley is sixth in the NFL with 1,344 scrimmage yards.

But Barkley is anything but pleased with his recent performance.

"I feel like I've been lacking the last couple weeks – being the guy, making explosive plays, especially when it matters most," he said today. "The only thing I can do there is come here and practice, try to have the best practice I can have. And then when the games come, when the opportunity presents itself, got to capitalize on it."

In the first nine games, Barkley averaged 103.4 yards and exceeded the century mark four times. The Giants were 7-2 in those games. Over the last four games, Barkley posted rushing yardage totals of 22, 39, 63 and 28 yards while the Giants went 0-3-1.

In a loss to Philadelphia last week, Barkley finished with a season-low nine carries. That was due in part of a minor neck injury and the game getting away from the Giants in the second half. Backups Gary Brightwell and Breida combined for eight rushes for 29 yards.

Asked how much Barkley was limited last week, offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said, "I never thought of it that way. Saquon came ready to play and we played him as we saw fit."

Barkley is not on the injury report this week as the Giants prepare for their critical NFC East showdown with the Washington Commanders Sunday night in Maryland. He refused to blame his decreased production – or, as he calls it, "lacking" – on any physical issue.

"No, not because of being banged up," he said. "It's just the truth. I haven't had a big run in a long time. Last time, I guess, was against Washington (two weeks ago). It was over 20 (yards). (It was 21, one of two runs more than 10 yards he's had in the last four games.) The last couple of weeks, the run game has been – I don't want to say non-existent. But they've been doing a really good job of stopping the run game or necessarily, stopping me. Obviously, that's a focal point. And that's going to be a focal point again this week. Just got to continue to get back to that mentality of knowing that teams are going to try to stop us. But if I can get going, it's going to help the team and it's going to help put us in a position to win."

As a team, the Giants totaled 134 and 123 rushing yards in their last two games against Washington and Philadelphia. But that was largely due to the production of the quarterbacks. Against the Commanders, Daniel Jones ran for a team-high 71 yards. Last week, Jones and backup Tyrod Taylor combined for 66 yards.

With Barkley as the catalyst, the Giants exceeded 100 yards in six of their first seven and seven of their first nine games. They topped 200 yards in victories against Tennessee, Chicago and Jacksonville. But they finished with less than 100 yards in three of the four games prior to facing Washington on Dec. 4.

Kafka was asked whether the regression is due to teams having a better idea what the Giants will run or the players' execution.

"We look back and we look at ourselves first," Kafka said. "If the execution was right, were the fundamentals right, was the scheme right? Those are all things that we evaluate on a week-to-week. We take that information, we apply it to this game plan and try and get those guys in the right spots and seeing it the way that we see it from a coaching staff."

A road game in Washington might be the perfect energizer for Barkley. In three games in FedExField, he has rushed for 416 yards on 49 carries, an 8.5-yard average, and caught 10 passes for 129 yards. Barkley has scored three touchdowns in Washington. On Dec. 22, 2019, Barkley set a franchise record with 279 yards from scrimmage (189 rushing and 90 receiving) in an overtime victory there.

"You can't read too much into that," Barkley said of his FedExField success. "It's a new game; it's a new season. (It's a) new opportunity. I'm just really excited for the opportunity. We have a great opportunity in front of us and go out there and try to capitalize on it."

*Just as the rushing offense has not performed as well as it did early in the season, the run defense has also had performances the players and coaches wish were better. Last week, the Eagles ran for 253 yards – a season high for a Giants opponent - and four touchdowns. The defense has not allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards since Oct. 30, when the Seahawks ran for 87 yards in Seattle.

"I think we're going to continue to work on it," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. "We understood the process of building a roster of what we needed to do. It's been a struggle. We've played with more DBs than we ever have this year, just to change things up. So, I think that's part of it. I think teams are just running the ball more and we've played three really good mobile quarterbacks (Dak Prescott, Taylor Heinicke and Jalen Hurts). What do they call them five-tool players in baseball? They're five-tool players as quarterbacks. I think that has a lot to do with it."

*Punter Jamie Gillan was penalized last week for an illegal punt after first dropping and then kicking the ball.

"Never seen it before, honestly," special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said. "It's been a year of firsts for me – that's one of them. I've never seen that play happen. Again, you live, and you learn."

The difference between a fumble and a dropkick is a judgment call by the official.

"Obviously, as he's (Gillan) attempting to catch it, you have to pick it up and then drop it on the ground," McGaughey said. "So, it's one smooth, continuous motion. That, obviously, was not a smooth, continuous motion. So, that was kind of an easy call for the officials."

*Linebacker Elerson Smith, whose blocked punt was one of the Giants' biggest plays last week against Philadelphia, was placed on injured reserve with an Achilles injury. The second-year pro missed the season's first seven games with a lower right leg injury suffered in a training camp practice on Aug. 14. He was activated on Oct. 29 and made his season debut the following day in Seattle. In five games, Smith assisted on one tackle on defense and made two special teams stops. His block of Arryn Siposs' punt set up the Giants' first touchdown vs. Philadelphia.

In a corresponding move, the Giants signed defensive tackle Ryder Anderson off their practice squad. Anderson has played in three games as a practice squad elevation. He has three solo tackles, including a sack last week.

Defensive tackle Jack Heflin was signed to the practice squad. The 6-3, 304-pounder from Iowa played in four games for the 2021 Green Bay Packers.

*Giants players who did not practice today: cornerbacks Adoree' Jackson (knee) and Nick McCloud (illness) and offensive linemen Josh Ezeudu (neck) and Shane Lemieux (toe).

*Wide receiver Richie James and linebacker Jihad Ward were limited as non-contact players because they remain in the concussion protocol. Also limited were tight end Daniel Bellinger (rib) and defensive lineman Leonard Williams (neck).

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