I’m sure many of you reading are from the Pittsburgh area. You probably have a good chance of also being fans of the ‘local’ college football teams, and are partial to the players produced from those schools, or from the area in general, such as Penn State alum Saquon Barkley.
Today offers Pittsburgh Steelers fans their first opportunity to see him go up against the black and gold, and thus is probably for many of you your first major, full-time exposure to him since he entered the NFL in 2018.
But I’m sure you know what to expect. The Steelers certainly know what to expect. And even though head coach Mike Tomlin may have not paid close attention to him the past two years, because he knew as an NFC opponent that he wouldn’t have to see him for a while, studying Barkley this offseason didn’t do anything to ease his mind in trying to defend him.
“He’s a special player. I’m familiar with him, obviously, from his college days up in Happy Valley, but hadn’t seen a lot of him since he’s been in the league because he’s an NFC guy”, he admitted on the Mike Tomlin Show. “From studying him all in the offseason and through the Summer, he is as good as advertised”.
“The football will flow through him. We don’t have a chance to be effective in this game unless we minimize his impact on it, really in all situations”, he added. “He’s the type of guy that’s capable of dominating the game in just about any and every way and in all circumstances. Interior run, perimeter run, the passing game, short-yardage, goal-line, red-zone, he’s just a special player, and I think he merits a certain amount of attention, and rightfully so”.
The second-overall pick in 2018, Barkley was an instant-impact player for the Giants—even if it hasn’t necessarily translated into wins. But when there are as many things wrong with your team as the Giants have had in recent years, there are few players who could single-handedly make that much of a difference, especially anybody who isn’t a quarterback.
Still, a pass-catching running back who can do it all is often the straw that stirs the drink. Le’Veon Bell served that role at times in Pittsburgh. Christian McCaffrey is used that way with the Carolina Panthers as well. Barkley is in that group, and he’s primed to have the best season of his young career.
It’s up to the Steelers’ defense—not just the front seven, but all 11—to delay his success by at least one week. Will they manage it? At the same time, they can’t overlook the passing game. T.J. Watt said that defending the Giants starts with “smashing the run”, but selling out for one gets you burned by the other.