The curious case of Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley might just be the most curious player in the NFL.

Second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Barkley is currently signed for the ninth biggest contract of any running back in the league and may well be the most athletically gifted player in that position right now. His bench, green, weight and 40 all rank in the 90th or best percentile according to Mockdraftable, and his tree trunk legs make him as difficult to slow down as they are to face.

The only problem? Barkley hasn’t been able to maintain his health long enough to show it.

Since leaving Penn State, Barkley has only played a full 16-game season once, in his Pro Bowl-winning rookie season, but since then he has only appeared in 13, two and six games, respectively, most recently missing with a rolled ankle and a place on the COVID roster.

When fully healthy and engaged, Barkley can be a weapon as a rusher, receiver and even a pass blocker, but so far this season the former Nittany Lion has only received more than once. 20 offensive hits, and that ended in a loss. effort to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3.

As the Philadelphia Eagles take on the New York Giants in Week 12, should fans be worried about the fourth-year rusher? Or is he just a guy unworthy of specific schematic attention?

The Philadelphia Eagles need to grab Saquon Barkley early.

In the NFL, there are two basic philosophies when it comes to throwing the ball, either doing it early to set the tone, or taking a lead in the air and throwing the ball late to control the clock.

Doug Pederson walked the second option all the way to the Super Bowl in 2017, and Nick Sirianni, to his credit, went from the latter to the old one seemingly overnight in the middle of the 2021 season, and that helped energize the recovery of the team at mid-season.

Which camp do the Giants fall into? Well that’s a little hard to say as they’ve found themselves in a huge number of shootouts since Joe Judge was appointed head coach in 2020.

In 2020, Daniel Jones attempted the seventh fourth-quarter pass attempt (143) from any NFL quarterback to the NFL. It’s a lot. He completed 57.3% of those passes, which isn’t particularly good, and finished the season with 809 yards in the fourth quarter, which ranked 20th in the league.

Fast forward a season into the future, and not much has changed. Jones ranks eighth in attempts, finishes them with a 54.9% rate and has the 23rd most yards in the fourth quarter of any quarterback in the NFL, including Jalen Hurts, who ranks 16th.

Why, you will ask me, is this relevant? Well, because the Philadelphia Eagles face the New York Giants in Week 12. If they can stop the running game early on with a steady dose of TJ Edwards in the middle of the defense, it will force Jones down. to throw the ball more and more with each pass, and thus, make the Giants’ offense more one-dimensional and therefore beatable.

That’s what the Eagles did in Week 8 against Detroit and again in Week 11 against the New Orleans Saints, and the strategy worked really well in both situations.

With Sterling Shepard out and Kadarius Toney uncertain for Week 12, the Giants will likely try to get heavy early on, with plenty of runs between tackles from Barkley and former Utah runner Devontae Booker, especially with former Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens calling the offense. If these games are successful, the Giants will likely continue to throw the ball early and often and incorporate the typical advantages of having a strong rushed attack like playing action and exaggerated deep shots to fast receivers like John Ross, which is also questionable. for the contest.

Take that off, and Jones will throw double-digit passes in the middle of the defense to Darius Slayton and Kenny Golladay, who will surely be covered all afternoon by his old friend Darius Slay (no link). I imagine Jonathan Gannon is more than happy to live with this.

A few years ago Jonathan Gannon would have started to sweat trying to figure out the best way to stop whatever Saquon Barkley can do when he takes the pitch. He would surely wonder if a security like Rodney McLeod should be deployed as a spy throughout the game and curse the fact that Davion Taylor, the team’s most athletic linebacker, was in IR. But now, in 2021? Barkley sits right in the middle of the Philadelphia Eagles’ list of concerns heading into Week 12, which is quite a stark contrast to his old pedigree.

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