EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.- The most prominent member of the Giants' offense is pleased he'll finally get to play with a full complement of teammates but cautions it doesn't guarantee success.
For the first time this season, the Giants will have each of their outstanding runners and receivers on the field at the same time when they try to end their four-game losing streak against the Dallas Cowboys Monday night in MetLife Stadium. Saquon Barkley, who leads the team with 534 yards from scrimmage despite missing three games, will be joined by wide receivers Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate and Darius Slayton, plus tight end Evan Engram, the team's leading receiver, to give coach Pat Shurmur and rookie quarterback Daniel Jones the roster of weapons they've envisioned deploying.
That was guaranteed after practice today when Shepard, as well as rookie cornerback Corey Ballentine, was cleared from the NFL's concussion protocol. Shepard missed the previous three games after suffering a concussion vs. Minnesota on Oct. 6. He has practiced without limitations all week and his return means the aforementioned players will make their group debut in the Giants' ninth game. Each of them missed at least one game this season.
"Definitely different, hopefully we'll have all our pieces for this game," Barkley said today. "Obviously, with D.J. at quarterback now, I think you see how different we have been since the beginning of the year. I personally feel like we have been very successful, especially on the offensive side of the ball, putting points up. At the end of the day, we haven't figured out how to win more games, that's the thing we have to get better at."
Barkley was asked what excites him about having all the offensive pieces available to play.
"You get to go out there and play with your brothers," he said. "Obviously, Tate is new, not to the league, but to the team. I train with Shep, I train with Evan, we put in a lot of hard work and time here, not just the four of us but the offense as a whole. To finally have us all go out there, hopefully we can go out there and compete at a high level. That's the team that we put together, so it's exciting."
Barkley doesn't believe having the full band together will make the defense less attentive toward him.
"Do I demand attention? Yes, I've noticed that while I have been playing, defenses have taken their attention to me," he said. "It's not like it's college where they are only focused on one guy. It's not like they are over there saying you have to stop this one person. You have to respect everyone in the NFL. You're in the NFL for a reason, you're on the roster for a reason. When you have everyone there, it's more opportunity for guys to make spectacular plays or plays needed."
But Barkley cautioned a full lineup doesn't guarantee that a team that is 22nd in the NFL in scoring (19.8 points a game) with an offense that is 24th in yards per game (333.8) is suddenly going to take flight.
"I don't think it's just that that's going to make us better," Barkley said. "I don't think we're bad, we just have to figure out how to win games, we just have to figure that part out. I know it sounds like it's easy to do, but obviously if it was easy to do, a lot more teams would have a winning record. I think we can be better because we're all there and we're all talented individuals, yes, I do agree with that. At the end of the day, where we need to be better at is figuring out how to win. That's not just offensively, defensively or special teams, that's all of us together. It's not individually. We just have to find ways to score more points, whether you need 13 points to win a game, 28 points to win a game or you need three, you just have to find a way to win games."
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The path to victory should be clearer with everyone in uniform. The Cowboys will still focus on Barkley but must be mindful that the Giants will have several more players who can do damage with the ball in their hands. And Jones will likely see more receivers who are open or in single coverage, because Dallas certainly can't double everyone.
"I think you have guys, and I think I said this earlier, that are interchangeable," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "Play inside, play outside, they're good with the football in their hands once we get it into their hands. Just talent wise, I think they've got good change of direction, quickness and things like that. Hopefully, that will be the case. We have a lot of young pieces on our offense. We think we're really close, too. It's a tough time for us right now as we know going through this, but I think the players are still seeing through some of the tough times. They're seeing a lot of the good things and knowing that we're really close. We just need to put it together."
When the Giants lost in Dallas, 35-17, in their season opener, Jones played only the final offensive series and neither Tate (NFL suspension) nor Slayton (hamstring) were in uniform. Now Jones has started six games, Tate has caught 23 passes in four games, and Slayton is tied with Engram for the team lead with three touchdown receptions after scoring twice last week in Detroit.
"I think it's important they all touch the ball, so we've got to spread the ball around," Shurmur said. "(Tate has) had an impact on the games that he's played in, and then certainly Slayton is getting better. He's getting better every week. His impact has been down the field, which has been good, and that's important for an offense, and Dan tends to find him down the field and then he makes those plays. So, those are good things, but we've got to do it against a really good defense, against a front that's going to put pressure on the quarterback."
But they should, finally, get to do it with their best offensive playmakers on the field together.
*The Giants' injury report is unchanged. In addition to Shepard and Ballentine, cornerback Grant Haley (knee) was a participant.
*The Giants will wear throwback uniforms Monday night, including white shirts and pants with blue and red stripes, a "GIANTS" helmet decal instead of the familiar "ny," and white facemasks replacing the customary gray. Those uniforms were worn from 1980-99.
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