Pa Ralph Vaciano
FOX Sports NFC East Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — There’s been something of a miracle at the Meadowlands this season, and it’s not just Giants 4-1. Here’s how they did it — with one of the worst passing games and probably the worst receiving game in the league.

At some point, if they want to maintain their success, they will have to address this. And at this moment they definitely cannot count Kadarius Tony, Kenny Galloday or even rookie Van’Dale Robinson, who is recovering from injuries and providing momentum. They could go sign someone like Odell Beckham or even make a trade, but it’s not like they have the salary cap or inclination to do so.

So it’s a good thing they have a solution on their list.

Now all they have to do is turn around Saquon Barkley loose

“He’s got great hands, he’s a good runner, he can get open,” the Giants quarterback said Daniel Jones. “He creates a matchup problem for defenses. I think that’s every reason to try to throw him the ball.”

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So why don’t they do it more?

Barkley has largely led the Giants offense this season, leading the charge with 533 yards (second in the NFL). But it’s a bit of a mystery that he really wasn’t involved that much as a receiver. He has just 18 catches for 143 yards through the first five games and has been targeted just 23 times on 135 carries.

It looked like new coach Brian Daboll was preparing to do a lot more with Barkley on the outside during training camp this summer. After all, Barkley was already showing off his receiving prowess as a rookie in 2018, when he had 91 catches for 721 yards and four touchdowns to go with his 1,307 yards en route to winning NFL Rookie of the Year. Thanks to injuries and inept coaching, he hasn’t come close to those numbers since, but he’s healthy now and appears to be playing for a much better coaching staff.

To be fair, they don’t completely ignore him in the passing game. Barkley is actually the Giants’ leading receiver with 18 catches for 143 yards. But it’s really more about the Giants’ other options. The Giants’ second leading receiver Richie James (17 catches for 171 yards), who became their fourth receiver this season. with Sterling Shepard during the season, there is no other healthy player with more than 10.

Not surprisingly, the Giants’ passing game ranks 31st. How much success could they have with James, Davis Sills (8 of 74) and Darius Slayton (7-90) as their top receivers, while pulling fill-in players like Marcus Johnson (who had 3 to 35 in a win against the Packers) from the street?

The answer seems obvious. Neither has the talent or ability as a receiver that Barkley has. And Dabola didn’t have a good explanation for why they no longer use him in that role. He essentially blamed it on the number of other options Jones has in passing situations.

“We’ve used him in different roles along with a lot of other guys,” Dabol said. “But again, our job is to find out what our guys do well and try to put them in those spots.”

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Receiving, however, is what Barkley does very well. And so far, he’s been targeted on 17 percent of the Giants’ passes (23 targets on 135 attempts), which is actually high for Dabol’s offense. Running backs were targeted just 15.4 percent of the time in the four years he ran Buffalo’s offense, and that actually dropped to just 13.8 percent the last two years, when the Bills’ offense really took off.

But here’s where the disconnect comes in: The Billsespecially the last three years, had much better receivers — Stefon DiggsJohn Brown, Gabriel Davis and Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Dawson Knox. All of that is better than any receiver the Giants have used this season. They didn’t have a pressing need to throw the ball to their running backs.

The Giants do — and it appears to be a huge need. And Barkley is so good that it could be very dangerous if they can force his mismatch in the open field, especially if they can do it on the field.

But that’s not part of the game plan yet. ​​​​​​​Despite putting him at wide receiver and working on his pass-catching skills this summer in training camp, Barkley has only lined up 17 times as a receiver this season, according to Pro Football Focus, and only six times it was separated in a row. And even though he’s been working a lot on wheel routes and other plays where he’s sent deep, he’s only been targeted twice when he’s 10 yards downfield or beyond, and neither of those throws lead to touchdowns. catch

That means it was mostly Barkley runs or screen passes. To be fair, almost every time he was sent on a pass route, he had a pair of defenders on him. Not surprisingly, Jones said, “I think every time he goes anywhere on the field, the defenders are looking for him.”

And yet, he produces. He piled up the rushing yards against defenses designed to stop him. He’s a master at evading tacklers and making brutal cuts that make defenders look foolish now that he’s obviously fully healthy again. There’s no reason the coaching staff can’t get creative with him in the passing game as well, trying to create the mismatches they crave.

Barkley doesn’t need to do much to become the Giants’ MVP.

It feels like he could.

“I think we’ll continue to look at it and see how we can get him the ball in space, whether it’s throwing him the ball or letting him run with it,” Jones said. “I think he’s been very productive in many ways. Every time he touched the ball, he was effective. We will continue to look for ways to do that.”

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York and before that covered the Giants and the NFL for 16 years for the New York Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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