Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka had a plan for Saquon Barkley in the 2022 NFL season, but it’s fair to say it hasn’t worked. Not that there’s anything wrong with how Barkley’s running the football for the New York Giants.
No. 26 is enjoying a career revival of sorts in that area. Barkley has stayed healthy and amassed 1,055 yards on the ground, good for fourth-best in the league.
The issue isn’t with Barkley’s running. Instead, it concerns his lack of impact in the passing game.
Barkley was supposed to be more of a receiving threat this season, but things haven’t worked out that way. Not when 2018’s second-overall pick has only 40 catches for 241 yards without a single touchdown through the air.
Kafka was asked directly about Barkley’s lack of impact as a receiver, but the offensive coordinator’s boilerplate explanation won’t appease those wanting more from his struggling unit.
Kafka Offers Lukewarm Defense
Perhaps predictably, Kafka was in defiant mode when asked why Barkley hasn’t caught more passes, per Giants Videos:
The response reads like something out of a coaches manual for dealing with the media. Rather than address the specific issue, Kafka spoke in broad terms and offered a vague defense for the problem: “Each week, we talk about those things and how we can get him in the most ideal premier look. It probably just hasn’t shown up as much as we’d probably like to. Those things present themselves each and every week and that’s what we look for as a staff – how we can get those things done over and over and over again. That’s part of our evaluation process on the week to week.”
Kafka stayed in retreat even when pressed on why the plan to involve Barkley more as a pass-catcher hasn’t come to fruition, per Giants.com: “Each week is different. Each opponent you go through, depending on what their defensive structure is, is different. You got to go into each week with a fresh mind and think about how you can attack a defense in the run and pass game.”
A siege mentality makes sense for a play-caller overseeing a unit ranked 21st in points and 23rd in yards. Kafka’s offense has hit the wall in recent weeks, scoring just seven touchdowns, committing four turnovers and surrendering nine sacks.
Things might look better if Barkley was being used in more versatile ways. That was the intention the Giants made clear last offseason.
Giants Haven’t Followed Through with Barkley Plan
Barkley’s involvement as a receiver appeared set for a major boost as soon as Daboll was hired. The first-year head coach established his reputation designing a creative offense for the Buffalo Bills.
Only the Kansas City Chiefs outstripped the Bills in terms of creativity and explosive plays. Kafka was a key part of the Chiefs’ staff as Patrick Mahomes’ quarterbacks coach, so Barkley looked primed for a more varied role.
Things appeared to be going to script once the Giants got Barkley into camp, per ESPN’s Jordan Raanan:
Even Barkley noticed interesting changes in how he was being used, expressing his excitement to Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post:
Barkley continued to move across formations and make plays in multiple ways as the Giants upped their preseason preparation. The blueprint for the new plan was spelled out by Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv: “One play, he’s a running back, the next he’s a slot receiver, then he’ll split out wide or maybe go in motion from wherever he starts.”
Flash forward and that’s not how Barkley’s season has unfolded. He’s been targeted 52 times, admittedly, the joint-most in the Giants’ offense, but Barkley’s involvement in the passing game has decreased markedly as the games have mounted.
The 25-year-old hasn’t been targeted more than five times in a game since Week 5 against the Green Bay Packers. He also hasn’t made more than three receptions in a game since Week 7 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to Pro Football Reference.
Two more telling statistics show the Giants aren’t getting Barkley into space in expansive ways. He’s travelled -1.4 yards before catch per reception and averaged just 7.4 yards after catch.
Those numbers show Barkley is catching the majority of his targets behind the line of scrimmage and in areas that draw crowds of defenders. There’s little evidence of Barkley being split out or released from the slot behind other routes to get into the voids of defenses.
A lack of targets can be explained, at least in part, by Barkley’s heavy workload as a runner, 242 carries in total. Yet, that’s little excuse for Kafka not finding more ways to get Barkley open behind coverage.
It’s not as if it hasn’t worked before. Barkley caught 91 passes as a rookie and averaged 7.9 yards per grab. He followed those tallies with 52 catches and an 8.4-yard average the next season, all with Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula designing and calling plays.
These Giants have enough of a high-profile among the pedigree among the coaching staff to get more from an athlete as dynamic as Barkley. He’s a free agent, but there’ll be little point in the Giants paying big to keep him if they don’t make Barkley a factor in both phases of their offense.