Saquon Barkley, face of Giants' franchise: Frustrated, at a loss and searching for answers

·6 min read

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Saquon Barkley is the face of the New York Giants' franchise.

Just not in the way everyone promised, the way everyone hoped, the way all expected.

Because Barkley appears miserable right now, and it's understandable.

He used to electrify an entire organization with his undeniable skill as a playmaker, and did so with a smile that lit up the room. Yet there Barkley stood Sunday inside the Hard Rock Stadium interview room, again at a loss in figuring out how to explain why nothing went right offensively in the Giants' 20-9 defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins.

His words were barely above a whisper, very common for Barkley's encounters with the media this season, even with three microphones nestled in the stand atop the lectern in front of him.

New York Giants outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari (51), running back Saquon Barkley (26) and wide receiver Darius Slayton (86) walk off the field at the end of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Dolphins defeated the Giants 20-9. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
New York Giants outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari (51), running back Saquon Barkley (26) and wide receiver Darius Slayton (86) walk off the field at the end of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Dolphins defeated the Giants 20-9. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

This was a game in which the Giants needed the running back that was "touched by the hand of God" when general manager Dave Gettleman declared the former Penn State star fit for a Pro Football Hall of Fame gold jacket after he was selected second overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.

No Daniel Jones, out with a neck strain that could threaten the remainder of his season.

No Kadarius Toney, no Sterling Shepard, both wide receivers still sidelined by injury, and Kenny Golladay banged up after sustaining a ribs injury in the first half.

Backup Mike Glennon was operating behind an offensive line that - truth be told, as fired offensive coordinator Jason Garrett declared the week before he lost his job - has one foundational player in Andrew Thomas at left tackle. The other four players are stop gap options, if that.

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Here was another opportunity for Barkley to turn the page on the last two seasons, when his bound-for-Canton trajectory took a drastically-unfortunate detour with the serious knee injury that casts a shadow still haunting his fate to this day.

He was brought to New Jersey to be a shining light, the yin to Odell Beckham Jr.'s brooding yang, is how some in the Giants' organization put it, considering Beckham's ego became all anyone wanted to talk about as his optimism was pounded into submission by the losing.

Right now, unfair as it may be to view the Giants' failure through a singular prism, Barkley has unwittingly become a symbol for so much of the struggle that remains.

There will always be the debate over whether Barkley was the right pick at No. 2 overall, the positional value of running backs being what it is. But that narrative has been replaced by a question that's even more alarming: is Barkley even capable of being a difference maker with the injuries and the losing having taken their toll?

“It’s part of the game, I guess we’re in a slump right now," Barkley said. "We’re talking personally, myself, I could either sit down and cry about it and give up, or go back to work and keep working and keep figuring it out. I’m going to do the other side of it. I’m going to go back to work, put my head down, and keep working and keep leading and just keep trying my best.”

Asked for his reaction to critics who suggest he doesn't have it anymore, Barkley replied: "That’s their opinion.”

So Barkley was asked why he believes he still has it, and this was his answer:

"Because I know who I am."

He's just not showing it consistently enough to make that an adamant response in reality, and the truth is, we don't know who Barkley is at the moment.

It's too disconcerting to just accept he is the player the ordinary statistics say he is: 11 carries for 55 yards, six catches for 19 yards with two giant drops against the Dolphins.

This isn't all on Barkley, mind you, because the odds were stacked against the Giants' Glennon-led offense on Sunday against a Miami defense that has found its groove during a five-game winning streak.

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This was, however, the stage on which a player of Barkley's caliber needs to make a difference. Had the Giants produced at least one touchdown offensively, the game would have been a lot closer, perhaps changing the final outcome on the scoreboard.

No one for Big Blue struck fear in the Dolphins, who never really once felt the pressure of having to defend a big play that would change the game.

That's what Barkley is supposed to deliver, and we're still waiting for it to happen again, save for those two glorious moments in New Orleans that seem like forever ago.

In eight games this season, Barkley has yet to reach 60 yards rushing.

Patrick Graham, the Giants' defensive coordinator, explained the goal of every week's game plan: force the opposition to play left-handed, meaning the complete opposite of its intentions.

The Dolphins were the latest team to make the Giants look as though they were trying to play offense with both hands tied behind their backs.

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) jumps and spins in the air as he rushes with the football during an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Doug Murray)
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) jumps and spins in the air as he rushes with the football during an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Doug Murray)

"Yeah, very tired [of not producing as an offense]," Barkley said. "We know that we’ve got to be better on offense. It’s something that we haven’t been doing this year. We haven’t been scoring touchdowns. Even though we’re tired, I know the defense is annoyed, too, because the defense is playing lights out. So we’ve got to do a better job of playing all three phases, and we’re not doing it on our side.”

The Giants are traveling from Miami to Arizona, where they will spend this week training and practicing on the campus of the University of Arizona before heading to Los Angeles next weekend for Sunday's game against the Chargers.

The Chargers, despite being 7-5, have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL.

The Giants might have to start Jake Fromm at quarterback - yes, a player who was on the Bills' practice squad this time last week - with Mike Glennon sustaining a concussion late in Sunday's loss to the Dolphins and Daniel Jones' status still uncertain.

"Nine points is not acceptable. We’ve got to be better," Barkley said. "We’ve got to capitalize on opportunities and do better as a whole, starting with myself.”

That's just it: we can't be sure if Barkley can be that player for the Giants anymore, no matter his confidence or the leadership he shows in tough times.

And like it or not, with the Giants at 4-8 and big decisions about the future on the horizon, the time to see that is running out for a team and fast.

Art Stapleton is the Giants beat writer for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to all Giants analysis, news, trades and more, please subscribe today and sign up for our NFC East newsletter.

Email: stapleton@northjersey.com

Twitter: @art_stapleton

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Saquon Barkley, NY Giants: Frustrated and still searching for answers

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