Insider take: Giants might continue to struggle without Saquon Barkley performing at Pro Bowl level

Tyler Dragon
USA TODAY Sports Plus
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) carries the ball as Washington Football Team defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis (98) and safety Kamren Curl (31) chase.

Optimism is dissolving about as quick as a taxi driver’s patience in the Big Apple. 

The New York Giants have lost the first two games of the regular season for the fifth consecutive year. But New York’s concerns extend beyond its winless record.

Running back Saquon Barkley hasn’t looked quite right.

Barkley suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during Week 2 last season. The Giants were extremely cautious with Barkley in training camp, and the running back didn’t suit up for the preseason. He returned to the backfield last week and rushed a modest 10 times for 26 yards. During Thursday night’s 30-29 loss to the Washington Football Team, Barkley, playing in his second game in five nights, tallied 13 carries for 57 yards (41 yards came on one carry).

The Giants said they want to ease in their star running back. But the problem is they don’t have enough talent to win games without Barkley performing at his pre-ACL tear level.

Barkley was extremely productive before injuring his knee. The Giants running back earned a trip to the 2018 Pro Bowl as a rookie. He was in the conversation for best running back in the league following consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons his first two years as a pro — the first player in franchise history to claim that accomplishment. As a pass catcher out of the backfield, he produced 143 receptions and 1,159 receiving yards those first two seasons.  

Barkley, Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara were the only three NFL players who totaled more than 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in 2018-19.

The Giants desperately need Barkley to return to pre-injury form if they want to get out of the 0-2 hole they put themselves in Thursday night in Landover, Maryland. 

Typically, it takes an athlete up to two years to truly feel back to normal with a surgically-repaired knee. There are some anomalies, such as running back Adrian Peterson winning NFL MVP a year removed from shredding his knee. But those are rare cases.  

Barkley’s returned for two games and he hasn’t had the quickness and burst he displayed his first two seasons. The Giants need Barkley to be the versatile, three-down running back they once knew. If not, another sub.-500 season is on the horizon.

“We are a resilient team. We are a mentally-tough team and we are a team that sticks together,” Giants coach Joe Judge told reporters postgame. “We have to improve a lot, absolutely. We have to coach better and execute better."

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