Usually it’s the coach opposing the Giants who has to answer the question about trying to stop a running back who can line up anywhere and do just about anything. This week it was asked of Pat Shurmur regarding Alvin Kamara of the Saints.
“He’s like a receiver,” Shurmur said. “He’s quick, he’s instinctive, he catches the ball well, he runs well after the catch. When we’re matched up one-on-one, we have to cover him well. And then certainly when we play zone and try to throw a net around him, we’ve got to make sure if he catches the ball that we tackle him. That’s the challenge there.”
The Giants, of course, have one of those guys, too. Theirs is rookie Saquon Barkley. And while there are plenty of differences in their physiques and overall skill sets – the 6-foot, 233-pound Barkley is 2 inches taller and 18 pounds heavier – there are a lot of similarities in the way they are utilized. On Sunday, the two explosive players will be on the same field in what could be a showcase of what the running back position has evolved into in 2018.
Barkley is the first player in Giants history to have at least 100 yards from scrimmage in his first three games. Kamara is coming off a rookie season in which he had 1,554 yards from scrimmage, and he leads the NFL in that stat with 430. He has twice as many receiving yards (289) as rushing yards (141).
“It’s definitely exciting,” Barkley said of the faceoff. “I definitely respect Kamara’s game … He can catch the ball out the backfield. He can run in between the tackles. Pretty much a do-it-all back. Definitely a threat for that team that we’re going to have to focus on. In my case, I just have to focus on myself and focus on what I can do to help the offense.”
Having a running back who can be a weapon in both the run and pass game is nothing new. A generation ago, the game had Marshall Faulk and Tiki Barber as dual threats. Heck, go all the way back to Frank Gifford with the Giants of the Fifties and Sixties.
“I think history would tell us there have been backs that have been exceptional receivers,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We could go all the way back to the history of the game. Of course, versatility helps when you’re a guy that can do more than one thing, but I think it’s not something that’s cyclical. It’s just trying to find matchups, whether it’s against a linebacker or safety.”
The difference now seems to be the number of those Swiss Army knife backs. After this game, the Giants will face two more in Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers and Darren Sproles of the Eagles. There’s also Todd Gurley of the Rams and plenty of others, too. A multi-dimensional running back is the newest must-have gadget for NFL offenses.
On Sunday, two of the best will be squaring off.
Player // Carries // Rush Yds // Rec // Rec Yds // Total Yds
Saquon Barkley // 46 // 216 // 21 // 137 // 353
Alvin Kamara // 37 // 141 // 30 // 289 // 430
NFL’S LEADING RUNNING BACKS IN YARDS FROM SCRIMMAGE
Player // Total // Rush // Rec
Alvin Kamara // 430 // 141 // 289
Christian McCaffrey // 428 // 271 // 157
Todd Gurley // 376 // 255 // 122
Saquon Barkley // 353 // 216 // 137