Entering this weekends Jaguars at Giants game, much was made of the Odell Beckham Jr. versus Jalen Ramsey matchup. A premier wide receiver, coming off injury, testing his wares against an up and coming cornerback. While this was justifiably marquee, just below the headliner was the NFL debut of 2nd round pick Saquon Barkley versus the Jaguars defense.
Who won the Barkley/Jaguars battle?
That may depend on your baseline of expectations.
Debate about the winner of the OBJ/Ramsey fight centered around stat lines, big plays, and who won. There was consideration of what defensive scheme the Jaguars implemented, and whether a true man against man matchup occurred to a significant degree. With the Jaguars playing zone, and Ramsey switching off, how do we determine whether Beckham’s success was at Ramsey’s feet. Furthermore, considering the Giants wide receiver did not find the end zone, how much success is given to chunks of yardage in the stat line which reflects underneath routes on 3rd and long?
The answer to the Barkley answer is similar.
How do you interpret 106 yards on 18 carries, and one touchdown, along with 22 receiving yards on two catches? A 5.9 YPC looks good on paper, as does a 4th quarter touchdown runs of 68 yards.
But how good does he look if you know, at halftime, that he posted 12 yards on eight carries, a 1.5 YPC average? Or that if you take away the long run, his second half numbers are 9 carries for 26 yards for just under 3.0 YPC? Add to that seven runs for negative yards or no gain.
As someone who did not think Barkley would be the difference maker to lead the Giants to victory, it is disingenuous to simply look at the stat line. The reality is the Giants started a rookie running back behind an offensive line in the process of being rebuilt, facing a defense that is spoken of in the same sentence as the great Bears and Ravens defenses.
In a segment from today’s GMFB on NFL Network, Nate Burleson gave respect to the Jaguars defense for keeping the rookie under wraps most of the day, observing “That defense is special”. However, he felt the rookie highlighted what he brought to the Giants offense, and why he was the better choice when talent at the quarterback position was still available.
You are looking at this run right here, (Saquon’s touchdown run) and this pretty much confirms what everybody thought he was. Which is, he is going to take his lumps, he’s a rookie running back in this league. And we thought he might have got baptized a little bit by one of the best defenses in the business. But I’ll tell you this, while watching him, He wasn’t soft. He wasn’t finesse. Like he took a couple of shots, and he was on the sideline barking at the Jags (with Ramsey).
In a post game interview, Barkley himself spoke to what it was like going up against the Jaguars defense.
It definitely was a challenge and a challenge that I was excited for and excited to go against and it definitely was a test. Not just the defensive line, but their defense as a whole.
Giants coach Pat Shurmur applauded Barkley for not getting frustrated with his inability to find running lanes. He focused on Barkley’s touchdown run as showcasing his explosive ability, something the Giants have sorely lacked for some time.
Maybe the best summary of Barkley’s first game was from Calais Campbell who said he could see Saquon in the Hall of Fame some day.
It could be argued the Jaguars standout defensive lineman his heaping extended praise on the rookie, but it seems difficult to argue the 2nd overall pick did not show promise. The touchdown run, specifically, displayed both strength and quickness. He is either breaking tackles or the Jaguars are missing tackles (fan bias is a thing), or a bit of both. When he hit the edge he pulled away, and it says something that Myles Jack was not able to catch him.
As a Jaguars fan you should ask yourself, how much different does this guy run than Leonard Fournette? How would I feel if, even in a loss, this was the result?
When the season is over, the Jaguars may look back and count their blessings that they opened the season against the Giants. With an improved offensive line, three options in the passing game, and talent at running back, maybe there is some tread left on the Eli Manning convoy.
The Jaguars defense won the game, yielded only one big running play, and therefore won the battle versus Barkley. However, if you are a Giants fan, you must have hope that one day the Giants now have the talent to win the war.