As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan notes, Saquon Barkley
continues to struggle when it comes to delivering the kind of big plays that were his hallmark as a rookie.
But the struggles go beyond that.
Even when head coach Pat Shurmur calls the perfect play to get his best player the ball in open space, something still goes wrong. They haven't been able to get the run game going consistently, and even more problematic, Barkley is becoming less of a factor in the pass game.
The second-year back had two receptions for 1 yard last Sunday to go along with 59 yards on 17 carries (3.5 yards per carry). The struggles continue, even though he told Raanan he felt better afterward than he had following a game in quite some time.
"Sometimes, you have to talk to yourself, especially with the way the season is going for me," Barkley said after taking blame for the drop.
It has been a rough season for Barkley and the Giants (2-9). He has failed to top 100 total yards in four of five games since returning from a high ankle sprain suffered in late September.
There is no doubt the Giants played a talented and strong defense on Sunday. The Bears have difference-makers on every level, and they entered the game with a top-10 run defense and the third-best scoring defense. So when the run game wasn't working early for the Giants -- Barkley had 21 yards on his first eight carries -- it made sense to get their top playmaker involved in the pass game.
Only that didn't happen -- and it hasn't for most of this season.
Barkley has averaged 4.4 receptions and 32.4 receiving yards per game this season. He averaged 5.7 receptions and 45.1 yards through the air last season.
Barkley has topped 30 yards receiving twice in eight games. He did so in 11 of 16 games last season.
According to Raanan, some of it has to do with Barkley's increased involvement in pass protection with the Giants' offensive line struggling. But Shurmur attributed the decrease in production in large part to having rookie Daniel Jones
at quarterback instead of Eli Manning
"I think it's safe to say Daniel has his eyes downfield a little bit more," Shurmur said last week of Barkley's shrinking involvement in the pass game. "I think that maybe has something to do with it."
It does. The veteran Manning was quick to get the ball into the hands of his top playmaker. He was among the league leaders throwing 24.1 percent of his passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. Jones is only throwing 17.8 percent of his passes at or behind the line of scrimmage, leaving Barkley with fewer opportunities.
It's also entirely possible that Barkley is missing the presence of Odell Beckham
Jr., traded to Cleveland this offseason. There is no doubt that when Beckham is on the field he demands attention. He's fourth this season in double-team rate (defined as two defenders within one yard of the targeted receiver at time of ball arrival) and was third last year during Barkley's record-breaking rookie season, per Next Gen Stats.
, Sterling Shepard
and Evan Engram
are all nice weapons, but they don't have coaches like Bill Belichick insistent on having two defenders on them at all times like he does Beckham. Instead, a majority of the teams the Giants have faced this year have admitted their primary focus has been on stopping Barkley.
Jones also took some responsibility.
"I have to do a better job finding him when he's open. Get him the ball accurately," Jones said after throwing for a career-low 150 yards as a starter against the Bears. "Defenses are certainly aware of what he can do in the pass game and account for that in the way they plan. I mean, I have to do a better job of getting him the ball."
Raanan went on to suggest this is where the Giants and Shurmur might need to be more creative.
Barkley had 54 snaps in the backfield last Sunday, one out wide and one in the slot, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. It limited his impact in the passing game with Jones at quarterback.
The Carolina Panthers also have a young quarterback and star running back. Christian McCaffrey
had 61 snaps out of the backfield, three out wide, five from the slot and one tight to the line of scrimmage on Sunday. McCaffrey struggled running the football against the Saints' strong run defense, but he still was a major factor in the pass game. He finished with nine receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown.
As Raanan suggested, "The Giants need some of that."
So, it's back to the drawing board. Barkley was the No. 2 overall draft
pick last year. The Giants built their offense this offseason around his skills; it's imperative they find a way to maximize them.
Fantasy owners would agree and it's possible this week's matchup could open the door to that.
As ESPN's Al Zeidenfeld noted this week, since Week 7, Green Bay is allowing a touchdown on 29.2 percent of drives (fifth-highest rate) and a rush TD on 4.5 percent of carries (fifth-highest).
Barkley has seen 18-plus touches in five consecutive games. ...
Meanwhile, Sterling Shepard
returned from a concussion Sunday and was on the field for 95 percent of New York's snaps. That's compared to 84 percent for Darius Slayton
, 83 percent for Golden Tate
and 16 percent for Cody Latimer
Shepard was held to a 5-15-0 receiving line but was targeted a team-high nine times and added some value with a 22-yard rush. Shepard's usage provide plenty of optimism, though Evan Engram
will return at some point (he's been ruled out this week
along with Tate and fellow tight end Rhett Ellison
) and it's apparent that rookie Slayton (team-high 67 yards on Sunday) will remain a big part of the offense.
But Shepard's role presence in the offense will remain strong.
As for coverages this week, ESPN’s Mike Clay notes that Green Bay hasn't shadowed since Week 6, but the opposition might have dictated that strategy. The Packers shadowed often earlier this season - usually based on size matchups - and it might make sense to do so again against the Giants this week.
If they do, Clay expects 6-3 Kevin King to match up with 6-1 Slayton and 5-11 Jaire Alexander to travel with 5-10 Shepard.
Clay added Alexander has been very good, whereas King has struggled this season, so while shadow coverage isn't a guarantee, it's fair to downgrade Shepard a bit while also bumping up the rookie Slayton.