Barkley could be sea­son-saver

Gi­ants’ run game valu­able in quest for good sea­son

The Morning Call - - BASEBALL - By Pat Leonard

A dom­i­nant run­ning game could save the Gi­ants’ 2019 sea­son.

An NFL coach who watched the Gi­ants play this pre­sea­son told be­lieves New York’s of­fen­sive line is “night and day” from last year’s Week 1 start­ing five.

And full­back Eli Penny nod­ded his head ex­cit­edly Wed­nes­day as he dis­cussed the two key ad­di­tions: right guard Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Mike Remmers.

“I love it,” Penny said. “I love it! Remmers and Zeitler. Man, that’s what you want in your line­men. Two crazy guys who love to block. We get ex­cited in the run­ning back room when­ever we see Kevin make big blocks in the pre­sea­son. Mike had a huge block where he ran some­one over. That gives a run­ning back confidence.”

There’s one prob­lem, of course: Ev­ery de­fense knows that stop­ping Saquon Barkley will stop this team.

That might not mat­ter, for two rea­sons. The Gi­ants of­ten were most suc­cess­ful run­ning the ball last year when their for­ma­tions gave away the run, and they’re go­ing to face much worse run de­fenses this year. Throw Remmers and Zeitler into that mix?

Maybe Barkley said it best on the first day of camp when he heard fans chant­ing “MVP!”

“MVP? Yeah,” he said with a smile. “I think any­thing is pos­si­ble.”

It is if last year’s stats hold up and Zeitler and Remmers push this line to new heights.

A suc­cess­ful run by War­ren Sharp’s def­i­ni­tion doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily gain a lot of yards. Con­text mat­ters; a 3rd-and-1 rush for two yards and a first down is suc­cess­ful.

Ac­cord­ing to Sharp’s re­search, the Gi­ants were 70% suc­cess­ful run­ning the ball in 10 snaps out of 13 per­son­nel (one RB, three TEs, one WR). In heavy 21 (two RBs, one TE, two WRs) and 12 (one RB, two TEs, two WRs) for­ma­tions, the Gi­ants had 53% and 43% suc­cess rates, re­spec­tively.

Th­ese stood clearly above the 38% suc­cess rate when three wide re­ceivers were on the field (11 per­son­nel) and the 27% suc­cess rate of 22 per­son­nel in 22 snaps, when hav­ing two backs and tight ends each may have been too great a play-call­ing give­away.

Pat Shur­mur and the Gi­ants’ of­fen­sive coaches are aware of their suc­cess in th­ese sit­u­a­tions, and this in some way ex­plains why they think they can suc­ceed with­out a star like Odell Beck­ham Jr. on the out­side. By im­prov­ing their line, padding their tight end group with run block­ers sur­round­ing pass-catcher Evan En­gram, and keep­ing the wide­out po­si­tion hard-nosed and vet­eran, they be­lieve it can work.

Remmers’ sit­ting out Wed­nes­day’s prac­tice due to his sur­gi­cally re­paired back and an illness is dis­cour­ag­ing, but hope­fully he doesn’t miss the opener and compromise the plan be­fore it’s in mo­tion.

Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus pro­vides fur­ther ev­i­dence that Shur­mur may be onto some­thing.

The Gi­ants ran the ball for 5.1 yards per carry out of 12 and 13 per­son­nel last sea­son, and they av­er­aged 2.1 yards be­fore first con­tact per at­tempt in those for­ma­tions, which ranked se­cond-best in the en­tire NFL, per PFF.

In th­ese heavy per­son­nel pack­ages the Gi­ants also av­er­aged .0077 ex­pected points added (EPA), third-best EPA in th­ese for­ma­tions of any team in the league.

Penny’s im­pact is clear, too, in 21 per­son­nel when he teamed with Barkley and two wide­outs. In 43 at­tempts, the Gi­ants av­er­aged 4.5 yards per carry out of that for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing 1.7 yards be­fore con­tact, rank­ing top 10 in the league.

“When we’re in those sit­u­a­tions where peo­ple know it’s com­ing, they know our per­son­nel, 12, 22, and they know it’s a run-heavy for­ma­tion, if you can be an ef­fi­cient run­ner and team, gain four yards even three yards a carry, that’s good foot­ball,” Penny said.

“When you nor­mally do that, it typ­i­cally doesn’t look as sexy be­cause it’s 3rd-and-1 and when you got to get 1 yard, you get only two yards and you look at the stats and say what­ever,” Penny added. “But for me as a full­back I have to show my value ev­ery time I get on the field … So when we go to our bread and but­ter plays, I tell Saquon be­fore ev­ery snap I’m in, ‘Let’s make this work, it’s gotta work, ain’t no ifs ands or butts about it, it’s gotta work.”

The Gi­ants im­prove­ments will pay off even more be­cause the level of com­pe­ti­tion might dip.

Sharp ranked de­fenses the Gi­ants faced last sea­son the NFL’s hardest in ex­plo­sive rush de­fense and the league’s se­cond-hardest in rush ef­fi­ciency de­fense. For the 2019 Gi­ant op­po­nents, he fore­casts those num­bers to drop to 18th-tough­est and 16-tough­est.

Shur­mur’s the­ory will be put to the test on Sun­day at Dal­las. In their last two games at the Cow­boys, the Gi­ants have been un­able to run the ball and score. In Week 2 of last sea­son, Barkley rushed 11 times for 28 yards and the Gi­ants had three points with two min­utes to play in a 20-13 loss.

The line on pa­per looks more for­mi­da­ble with Zeitler and Remmers along­side left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Will Her­nan­dez and cen­ter Jon Hala­pio. But no one will know who or what they are un­til kick­off Sun­day.

“There’s some good stuff. We have a hard­work­ing room,” Zeitler, a no-non­sense worker with an icy glare, said Mon­day of the line com­ing to­gether. “We have a lot of ac­tual foot­ball snaps in the room, with starters and the guys who are the back­ups. That’s valu­able. We’ve been get­ting a lot of work in. But this one’s re­ally gonna show us OK, where the heck are we, this week­end.”

Penny ex­plained the sim­ple truth, though. If the Gi­ants’ of­fen­sive line is dom­i­nant in 2019, “ev­ery­thing changes.”

“The sky’s the limit for this team,” the full­back said. “That’s how I feel.”

“MVP? Yeah. I think any­thing is pos­si­ble.” —Gi­ants run­ning back Saquon Barkley


Re­ly­ing more on the run­ning game, led by Saquon Barkley, may be the key to suc­cess the Gi­ants in 2019.

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