When linebacker Jordan Hicks was asked Tuesday about how he’s seen the Giants use their rookie running back and second overall draft selection Saquon Barkley in the offense, he responded with a laugh.
“How don’t they use him?” Hicks said. “They split him out, they put him in the backfield, they run the ball, they design picks for him, he’s everywhere. You can tell that they want to get him the ball in a lot of different ways, keep guys on the defense on their heels, and maybe lose track of him so we can’t do that. We’ve got to contain him and rally to him.”
Barkley adds a new element to an offense that has always been challenging. With Barkley’s run and catch abilities, wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard’s speed, and quarterback Eli Manning’s established talent, the Giants’ 1-4 record hides their explosive capabilities.
“They have an elite set of skill guys out there,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “You’ve got Odell, you’ve got Shep, you’ve got a lot of guys out there that can make a bunch of plays and I think everybody will be homed in on what they need to do and you’re not trying to make any special plays.”
Big plays have killed the Eagles’ defense in 2018. Last season, the Eagles gave up the fifth-fewest passes of 20 or more yards with 40. This season, they have already given up 18 and have allowed the third-most average yards in the NFL on big passes with 35.1.
Vikings wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen made the Eagles pay with five big plays of their own on Sunday mostly with their ability to catch short passes, break tackles, and keep running. Manning will surely look to get the ball out quickly against the Eagles’ defensive front, just as Kirk Cousins did last Sunday. Making tackles to hold those passes to minimal yards will be key.
“It's the yards after the catch,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz told reporters Tuesday. “The quick throws aren't the things that get you. When you look back at the Vikings it wasn't that they were getting those catches. A lot of times they were catching the ball for a 1-yard gain, 0-yard gain when they were throwing the ball out there.
“They have some guys that can run after the catch, Odell Beckham, Jr. obviously, and Barkley,” he added. “Barkley is a lot of times like a wide receiver. He's a guy that can get 2 yards, 3 yards, 4 yards, and then all of a sudden break one for 38 or 60 or whatever he can do. He's a big-play guy. We have to do a good job tackling him.”
In four career games, Barkley has totaled 308 yards on the ground on 71 carries with three rushing touchdowns. He also has 31 receptions for 274 yards with two receiving touchdowns. He has scored half of his team’s total touchdowns this season.
Rookie defensive back Avonte Maddox, who played his college ball at Pittsburgh, faced Barkley twice in the past two seasons.
“He’s explosive,” Maddox said. “He’s not just a running back. He can catch, so he’s a two-threat guy. He’s someone you’ve got to watch. Tough guy and powerful, fast, quick, they get everything out of him and you need to come in and make the tackle.”
Veteran defensive end Michael Bennett was extremely complimentary of Barkley when he spoke to the media Tuesday.
“I think he reminds me of a couple running backs,” Bennett said. “I think he has shiftiness and quick feet like Marshawn Lynch, but he has balance like LeSean McCoy, but then he also has speed like Jamaal Charles. So, he’s really a great combination of a running back.”
Barkley is the team’s third-leading receiver in yards. Beckham leads the Giants with 462 receiving yards on 39 catches with a touchdown. Shepard adds 304 yards and two touchdowns on 28 receptions. Beckham and Shepard have contributed most of the Giants’ 15 plays of 20 or more yards this season.
“Obviously, the Giants have a really great offense,” Bennett said. “Odell Beckham obviously is one of the top receivers in this new generation. … Barkley, I haven’t seen a running back like that in a long time. They have a really good offense and you need to be ready to play them at a high level.”
And, of course, the Giants still have the ever-stable Eli Manning at the quarterback position. The two-time Super Bowl Champion in his 15th season. He's completed 71.7 percent of his pass attempts so far this season for 1,381 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. The Eagles’ defense knows what he can do each game, especially with the weapons he possesses.
“He’s always been Eli in my mind,” Hicks said. “He’s always had the arm talent, he’s always made the right decisions, smart football player, understands the game really well. We obviously need to be on point going into this game.”