He isn’t expected to be out long term, but Saquon Barkley‘s status has been described as “week-to-week” after the New York Giants’ star running back injured is ankle against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2.
Not having their most dynamic playmaker available for a road trip to face arguably the strongest team in the NFC, is bad news for the Giants. Yet, there must have been more than a few sighs of relief Barkley hasn’t been ruled out for a significant amount of time. Especially after he two-time Pro Bowler proved his value by inspiring the Giants’ comeback from 20-0 down to beat the Cards 31-28.
Barkley rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, while also chipping in with six catches for 29 yards and another score. No. 26 was also key to the play-action passing game that helped quarterback Daniel Jones dissect the Cardinals.
While being diagnosed with a “low-ankle sprain” is relatively good news for Barkley and the Giants, Rapoport’s colleague Mike Garafolo pointed out the player “missed four games in 2021 with a low ankle.”
Giants’ head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka will hope Barkley isn’t sidelined for as long this time. Both know there isn’t another game-changing running back on the roster.
Barkley’s Absence Hamstrings Giants’ Offense
Jones earned a lot of plaudits for leading the comeback, but the Giants’ offense was still powered by Barkley. The 26-year-old was almost an ever present, playing all but two of the team’s offensive snaps, per the New York Post’s Ryan Dunleavy.
It wasn’t just that Barkley handled a heavy workload. He was productive enough to draw a ton of attention from the Cardinals’ defense.
Arizona paid Barkley enough attention to afford Jones more room to make plays on the ground and through the air. His success throwing against a defense loading the box to stop Barkley was summed up by the Giants’ QB1 posting a career-best 229 yards “off of play action,” per Next Gen Stats.
Using play action so heavily didn’t just help Jones. The approach also got the signal-caller’s most talented receiver more involved.
Tight end Darren Waller burned the Cardinals for six receptions and 76 yards. All bar one of those catches came from throws made after a play fake, something highlighted by Bobby Skinner of Talkin’ Giants.
It’s going to be a lot tougher for the Giants to sell the threat of the run without Barkley on the field. Daboll and Kafka will need to get creative with what they have.
Barkley’s Backups Have a Lot to Prove
Gary Brightwell, Matt Breida and rookie Eric Gray represent the Giants’ immediate alternatives to Barkley. It’s far from an awe-inspiring depth chart, but Daboll and Kafka will surely try to fashion a committee approach to keep the ground game relevant.
Breida may get the majority of the carries early on, given his role as Barkley’s chief deputy last season. The veteran averaged 4.1 yards per rush in 2022 and has extensive knowledge of the Daboll playbook from their time spent working together with the Buffalo Bills in 2021.
Breida’s versatility can also help replace Barkley’s skills as a receiver, but the Giants may turn to Brightwell for power running. The 6-foot-1, 218-pounder is comfortable between the tackles, prompting Daboll and Kafka to look his way in short-yardage situations.
Gray is the wild card as a fifth-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft with upside as a sleeper who can make an impact as a rookie. The former Oklahoma standout has so far been limited to returning punts, although Gray did showcase his potential for big plays on this 14 yard runback highlighted by Sports 24/7.
Gray could be the surprise package the Giants need to catch a powerful 49ers side off guard and cope better than expected without Barkley.