Saquon Barkley will never say it. He may not even allow himself to think it. That’s what makes him a 22-year-old captain on this team.
But he clearly needs to be the one who carries the offense, the one who lifts the Giants to whatever heights they can achieve. That’s what makes him a young superstar. For that to happen, it will take more than the 15 touches he got in Dallas.
“Yeah, we want him to get the football,” Pat Shurmur said on Thursday. “It makes sense for him to get the football.”
So why didn’t the Giants do that in their opener?
Shurmur gave a few reasons. One was the way the Cowboys focused on Barkley.
“We all know that Saquon is the focus of our offense and is certainly, smartly, the focus of teams that are defending us,” he said.
Another was the fact that the Giants had just four first-half possessions and then played from behind — far behind — for most of the second half. “So we were throwing it more than the law allows,” Shurmur said.
All of which makes sense when you have a normal running back.
The Giants clearly do not.
While Barkley was given early chances in Dallas, at key moments the Giants went in other directions. Shurmur says Barkley’s “charm” is he can catch passes as well as take handoffs, but in the two-minute drill before halftime he did not get the ball in his direction once. In the third quarter, inside the Cowboys' 10-yard line, the Giants again ignored Barkley on third and fourth down.
Shurmur’s offense during his Giants tenure has struggled to accommodate top-tier talent. There was a constant tug-of-war last year regarding how much Odell Beckham Jr. should or should not have been a centerpiece of the offense. This year, there could be the same teetering on how much Barkley is used. Shurmur often seems to fall on the side of using his brilliant players as decoys or assuming that just because opponents focus on stopping them that they actually can stop them. He leans toward system over stardom.
“For me to say we’re going to get X amount [of touches for Barkley], I think it would be a fun thing for everybody to keep track of,” Shurmur said, “but games just play out differently.”
Barkley may not be making a peep about it, but he definitely notices it. This is a running back who, on Thursday, was able to rattle off the speed of Cowboys cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, who was able to catch Barkley from behind on the second offensive play of the game (22.8 miles per hour compared to Barkley’s 21.8, according to Barkley). He is a player aware enough to toss out the Week 2 platitude that half the teams in the league are 0-1, but then add a footnote about the two teams that tied in their opener and ruined the cliché. He is in tune enough to realize that beyond the walls of the Giants’ facility there is a sense of doom and “panic” about the way the team played in its first game.
And he is a player who knows exactly how many times he handled the ball on Sunday.
“My body feels pretty good,” he said. “My answer is always going to be like that whether it’s 15 touches or 40 touches.”
Barkley has maintained that he doesn’t care about numbers or stats or his own opportunities. He’s more interested in something else.
“I sense that Saquon wants to win,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “And he’ll do it in whatever role. He’s the ultimate team player. He’s locked in, just like he’s been since the minute he got here, on how he and the other offensive guys can help us win.”
In Barkley’s case, the way he can best help the team is simple. He needs the ball.
Even if it remains unspoken by him.