Why Saquon Barkley Returning Puts Immense Pressure on Pat Shurmur

10/16/2019

Justin Penik (@JPenik74)

Photo by: Brad Penner USA Today Sports

      When Saquon Barkley went down with a high ankle sprain during the first half of the Buccaneers game, the Giants had an interesting opportunity in front of them. I have always been one to question the value of a running back in today's league and in life without Saquon, the Giants lead by Daniel Jones had the ability to help answer the value debate. I know I was one to say and actively root for the Giants offense to prosper without Saquon (I love Saquon as a player and am so glad he is a Giant) because not only am I a Giants fan who wants them to succeed no matter what, but just like all human beings, I also wanted to be right. 


     Low and behold, the Giants offense has obviously greatly missed one of the league's best playmakers. In the three games without Saquon, Giants RB's averaged just over 66 yards per game. Granted, the Patriots and Vikings are both ranked in the top 10 of the league in terms of the least amount of rushing yards allowed per game. Nevertheless, the presence of Saquon Barkley likely coming back this week against the Cardinals puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the Giants offense to perform.


      In the Daniel Jones era (four games), the Giants have only won the time of possession battle in five quarters (three of which came in the Washington game). It has been clear that even though we have felt the offense has been able to move the ball, the inability to consistently sustain drives and give the defense a break resembles feelings we had back in 2016 (of course we were winning more games that year). I almost get the feeling even though Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard are still out with injury, in the minds of fans, the return of Barkley will get Daniel Jones and this entire offense, on the right track.


     This is where not only the value of a running back is put on full display, but where the pressure mounts for Pat Shurmur. If Saquon Barkley plays and losing continues, even if he touches the ball almost twenty times for over one hundred forty total scrimmage yards (his stats from the Dallas game week one), Shurmur will be scrutinized by fans who say he should have touched the ball more. See this excerpt from an article from theringer.com written by Riley McAtee in December of 2018 (full article will be linked below, definitely worth the read).

     Even with Eli Manning at the helm last year, the Giants still ranked eighth in the league in passing attempts. Yes, it is partially because the Giants were constantly behind in the second halves of games and there was a ton of garbage time stats. However, Barkley was second in the league in rushing attempts behind Ezekiel Elliot. So this is what makes the quote "Running doesn't matter, and yet the less it matters, the better it gets." Giants fans walk away from almost every week saying, "Saquon needs the ball in his hands more" yet, he finds himself leading major rushing categories. 

     And this is how Pat Shurmur finds himself in an almost impossible situation. He is in a league where passing is king, yet a running back is expected to come back and maximize the entire offensive unit. As a Giants fan, I hope this is exactly what happens: Saquon is able to come back, help the Giants sustain longer drives on a more consistent basis, be another pass catching option for Daniel Jones, have the big play potential we all know he can have and most importantly, help this football team win more games.  

     Shurmur has already been under hot water due to his game management and peculiar play calling approach (running on 3rd and short in 4 down territory, running on second and long, play action rollouts in the red zone when the field shrinks, wasted challenges leading to wasted timeouts...) If Barkley comes back, and the rushing numbers continue to be stellar, yet the losing continues, the question has to be asked: just how much does a running back actually have an impact on the result of a football game? If Shurmur continues to not manage the game to the best of his ability while Saquon is rushing the ball efficiently, be on the lookout for an all out onslaught on the second year Giants coach. Or how about the perfect situation where Saquon comes in, proves me wrong over this whole "value" conversation and helps the Giants win some football games? That would be fun and ideal but let's face it, this is the New York Football Giants and nothing ever goes according to plan.           

The Ringer article: