EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Pat Shurmur has fielded media inquiries on hundreds of issues since becoming the Giants' head coach, but the subject he has likely been asked about more than any other can be summarized in two words: Saquon's touches.
Saquon Barkley's rushing attempts and receptions have become as much a part of Shurmur's news conferences as discussions of the quarterbacks and the Giants' next opponent. Is the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year shouldering too much of the offensive load, which seemingly puts him at greater risk of injury and/or late-season fatigue? Or is he not getting his hands on the ball enough, an occurrence which might compromise the team's chance to win?
Barkley had a career-low 15 touches – 11 runs and four catches – in the Giants' season-opening loss in Dallas last Sunday. Including his postgame news conference, Shurmur has spoken to the media four times since the end of the game. Each time, he was asked about Barkley's workload.
Today's Barkley question was, "When you go into a game, do you have an idea in that game, based on the opponent, of how many touches you want him to get or how heavily you want to lean on him in general? Or do you just let it unfold as the game is happening?"
"We all know that Saquon is a focus of our offense," Shurmur said. "He's also, smartly, the focus of the teams that are defending us. His charm is that you can hand it to him or throw it to him. Yeah, we want him to get the football. It makes sense for him to get the football. Each game plays out differently. I would have never predicted last week that we would have only had four possessions in the first half. That's just how it worked out. That may, in total, speak to how many touches he might have had based on how many in the first half and how many in the second. Then in the second half, we're behind and so we're throwing it a lot more than the law allows. Games play out differently. For me to say we're going to go in and get X amount, I think it would be a fun thing for everybody to keep track of, but games just play out differently."
Performance, rather than touches, is Eli Manning's focus.
"We don't worry about touches," Manning said. "We worry about execution and moving the ball. Obviously, you have runs where you guarantee him getting the ball and you have passes where you can get him the ball or he might be first in the read on some and some are, hey, they covered him up and we are going to other guys and getting the ball down the field."
Barkley spoke to the media today (as he does each Thursday), and as often happens, he was questioned about his touches. He seldom strays very far from his standard response.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win," Barkley said. "If we play better than we did last game, and we execute what we need to execute, I don't think the conversation will be about 15 touches. I think we find a way to win that game. But at the end of the day, Dallas made more plays than us. We just have to find a way to do that better next game."
Barkley rushed for 120 yards, including a 59-yard run that set up the Giants' first touchdown on their opening series. He gained another 19 yards on his four catches. Barkley didn't play in the preseason, so Sunday's game was the first time he absorbed real contact in more than eight months.
"My body feels pretty good," he said. "My answer is always going to be like that, no matter if I get 15 touches or 40 touches. I do the right things to try to get my body right and getting it ready. The most important thing is feeling the best you can on Sunday. I'm excited for that."
This week, the Giants host the Buffalo Bills, who had the NFL's second-ranked defense in 2018 (294.1 yards a game) and allowed just eight offensive points in their 17-16 Kickoff Weekend victory against the Jets.
Barkley became an instant star and was the league's best rookie last season while averaging 22 touches a game (261 rushing attempts and 91 catches). He had a season-high 29 (27 carries, two receptions) in a victory against Tampa Bay, and a season-low 16, including 10 rushing attempts, in a loss to New Orleans.
"I think Saquon needs to touch the ball," Shurmur said in a response to a question yesterday. "That's something we're going to talk about weekly. I think there's some weekly conversations we're going to have, so I'm glad you brought it up. It's important that he touches the ball because he has a chance to be explosive. Again, each game plays out differently. There were games last year where he touched the ball in the run game more than he did in the passing game, but his biggest plays came in the passing game, and vice versa. We'll just see how it plays out. But it's going to be the focus of who people stop. So, I think it's also important to know that, offensively, it takes a village and everybody else has to do their part."
Barkley had limited opportunities to have an impact against the Cowboys because of how the game progressed. The Giants had just those four possessions in the first half that Shurmur spoke of, including one that began with 1:13 remaining and consisted entirely of eight Manning passes. They trailed at halftime, 21-7, and in the second half threw 29 passes against 11 runs, demonstrating again that it can be difficult to maximize Barkley's capabilities when facing a sizeable deficit.
"It just depends on the circumstances," Manning said. "We have to keep him involved, he's a playmaker. If you can run it and get 10 yards, it's the same as throwing a pass, it doesn't make a difference from that aspect. You have to make some plays and get the ball moving forward. Obviously, you hope to stay in games and score more points early to have a lead going into the second half. Then we can focus on getting him the ball even more."
No matter what happens, Shurmur will certainly get more questions about Barkley's touches.
*Wide receiver Cody Latimer (calf) today became the third Giants wide receiver to miss practice because of injury. The others are Sterling Shepard (concussion) and Darius Slayton (hamstring). Tight end Garrett Dickerson (quad) also sat out.
Defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence (shoulder) was again limited.
Linebacker Markus Golden (hip) and guard Kevin Zeitler (shoulder) practiced fully after they were limited yesterday.