The Defensive Game Plan is All About Saquon Barkley

Jan 2, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) rushes the ball against Chicago Bears outside linebacker Robert Quinn (94) during the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Shut down Saquon Barkley and there’s a very good chance the Vikings will head into the divisional round of the playoffs.

Truth be told, I didn’t foresee the Giants’ RB having such a strong season. I overlooked him in my fantasy draft, instead opting for an Austin Ekeler/Joe Mixon double whammy. Little did I know that Mike Kafka and Brian Daboll would help revitalize their RB’s career.

Barkely is, without question, one of the most important players on the field every time he’s out there. Failing to nullify him will make a victory much more difficult to acquire.

Saquon Barkley and 2022 Success

Take a look at some of the notable numbers:

  • 295 Carries
  • 1312 Rushing Yards
  • 4.4 Yards per Attempt
  • 10 Touchdowns
  • 57 Receptions
  • 338 Receiving Yards

Perhaps even more importantly for New York, Barkley was able to play in and start 16 games. He played a very impressive 80% of the offensive snaps for the games we was in. Don’t forget that we’re in an NFL that prizes rotating running backs to deter injuries and keep legs fresh, so it’s impressive that Barkley was a true workhorse.

Jan 1, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (97) celebrates a defensive stop with running back Saquon Barkley (26) during the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Saquon Barkley had 764 snaps lined up in the backfield. He had 14 at QB and 19 inline. He added 32 snaps in the slot and 25 out wide. In other words, the Giants’ offense relies on the RB to do a ton. The only position he hasn’t played is offensive line.

Previously, I’ve argued that Minnesota’s playoff chances may come down to their pass rush. For the most part, I think that’s true, even against a Giants team that wants to run the ball and make life easy for their quarterback.

As the above snap count indicates, Barkley is very involved in the passing game. In fact, his 76 targets are the most of any player on the Giants roster. That’s right, the running back with nearly 300 carries is also the player who gets the most attention as a pass catcher.

Admittedly, I haven’t watched the Giants’ season like I’ve watched the Vikings’ season, but the numbers certainly suggest he’s their most important player on offense.

Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears running back Khalil Herbert (24) runs against the Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga (95) during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Forced to guess, I’d say there has been no shortage of film study devoted toward Mr. Barkley. Minnesota’s defense – 28th in the NFL in terms of points allowed – isn’t stellar at stopping the run. They come in at 20th overall in terms of yards allowed on the ground. The per-carry average – 4.5 yards – also comes in at 20th.

So, better than the pass defense but not a stifling front by any means.

Thankfully, there is some hope that Minnesota can make life difficult for Saquon and the Giants offense. One has to assume that we’ll see Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips, and Khyiris Tonga on the field at the same time. Combined, those three players weigh 953 pounds. Don’t forget that the listed weight might be coming in under the actual reality; they may clear 1,000 pounds.

Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell looks on before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The point, folks, is that Minnesota can lean on their personnel to clog the run lanes. In so doing, they can try to force the Giants to run the offense through Daniel Jones. Of course, part of the risk with that approach is that the QB can run (he has 708 yards on the ground, 5.9 yards per carry) and that Minnesota’s pass coverage has been pretty brutal all season.

Nevertheless, the team simply can’t accept an outcome where Barkley runs all over the field. Minnesota’s defense must force New York’s to go away from its best option: Saquon Barkley. Failing to do so will likely lead to a bad result.

The game will take place at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, January 15. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 CST.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and PFF helped with this piece.