The 2018 NFL season isn’t even two weeks old, but it is clear that the New York Giants are not a playoff team. On Sunday, the offensive line once again played poorly, which set in motion a chain of events that had to remind fans of the dreadful 2017 campaign. Eli Manning was sacked six times. After a while, he began to look at the rush and did not have the confidence to make any throws downfield. He transformed into Captain Checkdown for most of the night, and as a result he had a deceptively high completion percentage.
The defense kept the Giants in the game, but did not start the game the way they wanted to. Multiple defensive backs were caught out of position on a long touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to Tavon Austin on the first drive of the game. All night, the Giants defense was fooled by simple read option plays. The much-maligned Prescott made the Giants defense look silly on a number of occasions.
All of the Giants shortcomings prevented their stars from having an impact on the game. Odell Beckham Jr. only had four catches for 51 yards. Manning was unable to make downfield throws to Beckham because the offensive line could not protect Manning. Beckham seemed to be open on a number of plays, but it didn’t matter.
Now we get to the sad story of Saquon Barkley, the star rookie running back who, on most other franchises, would be an explosive, game-changing player. In two games with the Giants, however, he has been bottled up by opposing defenses. Barkley is clearly not at fault for anything that has happened in the first two games. A running back can only be as good as the offensive line, the quarterback, and the coaching staff. So far, none of those three groups has done its job.
In two games, Barkley has set two franchise records despite the mediocrity that surrounds him. In Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he rushed for 106 yards, which broke the franchise record for rushing yards in a debut. To put that in perspective, the New England Patriots rushed for just 82 yards as a team in last week’s loss to the Jaguars. The majority of Barkley’s yards came on one play, but the rookie still made several impressive plays and looked like a superstar.
Last night against the Dallas Cowboys, Barkley set another franchise record. He caught 14 passes in the game, which is one more than Tiki Barber had in a game against the Cowboys in the final week of the 1999 season. However, Barkley only recorded 80 receiving yards, which is the lowest total in NFL history for a player who had 14 or more catches in a game. It also needs to be said that most of these plays were check-downs and dump-offs. Some of Barkley’s receptions came on the Giants’ final two drives, at which point the Cowboys were essentially playing prevent defense.
Barkley dazzled despite all of the short, meaningless receptions. When NBC commentators Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth weren’t marveling at Barkley’s thighs, they pointed out that Barkley did all he could despite the fact that he took a beating. Barkley made the first man miss almost every time he touched the ball. Most of the time, it didn’t matter because a second Cowboys defender was in the area. He was only able to gain significant yardage on a few plays. If the Giants put him in a position to succeed, he would be one of the best running backs in the NFL. Unfortunately, he is stuck with an organization that is sinking deeper and deeper into the depths of incompetence and ineffectiveness with each passing year.
Barkley’s greatness and the Giants’ incompetence could combine to create a tragic scenario. Generally speaking, star running backs do not need to be a part of a star-studded offense in order to succeed. They don’t need three Pro Bowlers on the offensive line. Star running backs simply need to have average linemen and some semblance of a passing game in order to reach their potential. Right now, the Giants don’t have either one of those things. As a result, Barkley has little to show for his good work.
This vicious cycle is likely to continue for Barkley and the Giants. The main reason why the cycle will continue is that the Giants are not in good shape when it comes to the salary cap. The Giants currently rank 26th in the NFL with just $4.6 million in available cap space for the remainder of the 2018 season. The only teams with less cap space than the Giants are the Broncos, Panthers, Packers, Saints, Vikings, and Chargers. All of those teams are going to be playing meaningful games in December, and most of them will also be playing in January. The Giants, on the other hand, will be out of the playoff race by mid-October.
It should come as no surprise that the Giants also do not have much cap space in 2019. They have the fifth-lowest amount of 2019 cap space. All four teams with less cap space won at least one playoff game last year. Previous general manager Jerry Reese and current general manager Dave Gettleman have made terrible decisions that have resulted in the team being saddled with several bad contracts. The Giants have no one to blame but themselves for the position they are currently in.
The Giants desperately need to improve the still-woeful offensive line if they want Barkley to reach his full potential. However, as a result of the cap situation, the Giants will be hard-pressed to make major improvements to the team in the near future.
To make matters worse, the 2019 draft class is not expected to be chock full of potential franchise quarterbacks. It is entirely possible that the Giants best option will be to trot out an aging, barely-serviceable (or not-serviceable) Eli Manning in 2019. Based on what we have seen from Manning in 2018, it is safe to say that he does not have much (or anything) left in the tank. The Giants have many offensive weapons, but they will not be able to get them the ball because of poor offensive line play and subpar quarterback play.
It would be sad for Barkley’s career to be marred by the Giants ineptitude. And yet, this outcome is very possible- perhaps even likely. Barkley may never get his due; he may be remembered as just another good running back who put up some halfway-decent numbers.
Saquon Barkley is the NFL’s tragic hero. He has all of the tools a running back needs to have in order to become one of the best running backs in NFL history. However, he does not play for an organization that can provide him with a competent offensive line or an average passing attack. Barkley may be doomed to toil in the Meadowlands for most of his career.
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