The New York Giants have first-round picks on offense at quarterback, tight end, and running back, high-end, blue-chip prospects who should be dynamic pieces of their offense. Of the trio, only third-year running back Saquon Barkley has so far established himself as having lived up to his full potential.
That is why the Pittsburgh Steelers were so focused on stopping the Penn State alum as their primary objective as a defense. It’s something that head coach Mike Tomlin talked about in his pre-game press conference nearly a week ago. T.J. Watt said that their gameplan was going to begin with “smashing the run”.
They did that during their Monday Night Football season-opening victory in New Jersey, holding Barkley to an astonishing six rushing yards for the game on 15 carries. His longest run was seven yards, to that means he totaled minus-one rushing yards on his other 14 attempts.
“We had a commitment. We weren’t going to be bashful about that commitment”, Tomlin told reporters immediately after the game about their approach in defending Barkley. “We thought that guy was a catalyst for whatever they were going to do offensively. We put our secondary in harm’s way some in an effort to do so. But it’s a team game. They embraced that challenge. We needed to stack the line of scrimmage. We needed to bring people like Mike Hilton and so forth, and we did. We did what we thought was necessary to minimize his impact on the game”.
The Pro Bowler did have success in other areas. While he had just six rushing yards, he gained 60 through the air on six receptions from nine targets. 38 yards came on one screen pass that converted on second and 17 and featured a couple of missed tackles. Barkley was able to hurdle a number of defenders with the ball in his hands in open space in the passing game.
Still, there’s no question that you sign up for a game against Barkley in which he totals 66 yards from scrimmage on 21 touches, which translated to just 3.14 yards per touch. Interestingly, however, it was not the worst rushing performance of his career.
In Week 10 of last season against the New York Jets, Barkley netted just one rushing yard on 13 attempts. He was tackled for a loss five or six times in that game, including one for a loss of four. The Steelers were also frequently able to bring him down behind the line of scrimmage.
Meanwhile, James Conner struggled as well before leaving injured, but his backup looked like Barkley usually does, rushing for 113 yards, his first 100-yard rushing game of his career. And the Giants do have a stout front seven with players like Dalvin Tomlinson and Leonard Williams.