When you see highlights of Saquon Barkley, you usually see Adrian Amos. He is the former Bears safety who, in a game last season, tried to tackle Barkley during an open-field run, only to be hurdled by the running back. Barkley did not stick the landing and keep going (which is why the highlight usually cuts out before the play ends), but it was perhaps the most circus-like display of Barkley’s unique skills that he has yet performed in the NFL.
It was everything the Giants thought they were getting in the second overall draft pick — legs splayed over the defender as he soared majestically through the air at MetLife Stadium.
Amos no longer is with the Bears, but it just so happens that on Sunday, the Giants will be facing the very team that Barkley ran through — and over — at the height of his dominance a year ago. And it’s the kind of high-flying, electrifying play Barkley wants to start making again.
“I’m just going to go back to having fun,” he said Thursday. “There’s a reason I’m one of the best running backs in the league, and I’m just going to go out there and do what I do.”
It’s an interesting alteration in his mindset because it happens to be the exact opposite of the one that seemed to help propel him in the second half of last season.
Barkley came off the bye week in 2018 focused on dialing things back. There was too much razzle-dazzle in his game in the first half of his rookie season, too much cutting and spinning and trying to take every handoff to the house.
The coaches convinced him that it was better to take the hard two or three yards on a carry — they called them “dirty yards” — than to get tackled for a loss while trying to juke half of the opposing defense.
Barkley rushed for at least 100 yards five times in the second half in 2018, including the one against the Bears, and was named offensive rookie of the year.
Now he is coming off another bye week. This one happens to be later in the schedule, and it comes in a season that has been a frustrating one in terms of production and health.
Barkley has been hampered by a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 3. He spent the weekend without football, not only helping the ankle mend but watching clips of himself and trying to figure out what he was doing wrong — especially in the last game he played, when he had just a single rushing yard on 13 carries against the Jets. Then he realized that it had little to do with X’s and O’s.
It was about that missing element.
“I allowed . . . for me not to be me,” Barkley said. “That’s what I’m getting back to this week. I’m going to go out there and ball and have fun . . . That’s the message my dad told me my whole life, when people tried to change my running style in high school. So I’m just going to have fun. That’s the biggest thing, have fun and play like you’re a little kid.”
Don’t try to do too much? Take what the game gives you? Those were was last year’s bumper sticker slogans.
“I think there’s times where I didn’t do quite enough,” Barkley said of this year’s efforts. “Say if a guy got beat too quick, I’d take what the defense gave me and, I won’t say go down with ease, but I was more concerned with securing the ball and living for another down. But there are times when I can do what I do best and make that person miss.
“[If] the defense is on the ball and doing a really good job and I’m just taking what they give me, then I’m not trying, I feel like I’m not trying,” he added. “That’s the biggest thing. Even though defenses are going to make plays, it’s the NFL, but sometimes I can make that person miss. Or make two guys miss.”
Barkley said his new philosophy doesn’t mean he’ll try to turn every play into a 70-yard touchdown or play recklessly.
“It might be as simple as making two guys miss and getting a 5-yard gain,” he said. “Not getting tackled in the backfield and getting to the line of scrimmage, or getting to the sticks and keeping the sticks moving. That’s what I’m going to try to do.”
And maybe — if the ankle feels good and the opportunity presents itself — leap over someone?
Adrian Amos isn’t on the Bears, but he is on the Packers, and that’s the team the Giants play next week.
“I haven’t jumped over a guy yet,” Barkley said, laughing. “I don’t know if it’ll be this week, but I have a couple more games to get that done.”