When New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley returned to practice from a high ankle sprain much faster than anticipated, everyone was impressed. When he missed just three games, his toughness was lauded.
Barkley’s intentions were good. But his hasty return was clearly a mistake. And perhaps it’s time for the Giants to think about when they might sit him down for the rest of the season.
Barkley had a week of rest during a bye last week and another quiet game on Sunday. He had 59 rushing yards on 17 carries and 1 yard on a pair of catches against the Chicago Bears. The Bears defense has a good reputation but had allowed 118.3 rushing yards per game over its previous six, and 134.8 per game if you ignore one good performance against the Chargers. Barkley should have had room to run. For anyone who drafted Barkley ahead of Christian McCaffrey in fantasy drafts, avert your eyes: Over Barkley’s last three games he has 86 rushing yards on on 44 carries.
Barkley was off to a bad start right away on Sunday. In the first quarter of a 0-0 game, Barkley had a ton of room to run on a third-down swing pass, and it hit him in the hands. He dropped it.
“That drop, it sucks, happened early in the game,” Barkley said. “Probably had an opportunity to do something with it if I had caught it. D.J. [Daniel Jones] put a great ball. I lacked in focus there.”
Barkley isn’t the same player who wowed the NFL as a rookie. It seems like the injury is the main reason. He had two 100-yard games to start the season, suffered a high ankle sprain in his third game, and hasn’t had a 100-yard game since.
Play-calling hasn’t helped. Getting Barkley just three targets in the passing game on Sunday was not smart. He had three unblocked Bears defenders swarm him on an ill-advised pitch play on third down in the second quarter. And it’s not like having rookie quarterback Daniel Jones in the lineup has opened anything up.
Still, it has been a lost season for Barkley, and running backs don’t have too many seasons to give away.
Since picking Barkley second overall will be debated forever, that decision didn’t look good on Sunday either. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, weeks removed from his bout with mononucleosis, followed up a 293-yard, four-touchdown performance last week by throwing for 315 yards and two more touchdowns (rushing for another) on Sunday. Darnold was drafted one spot after Barkley. When the Giants invested in a quarterback it was Jones this season. Jones had 150 yards on 36 attempts Sunday, and has turned the ball over 18 times this season. While it seems like he has a bright future, there have been moments this season when that’s very much in question.
It was debatable to draft a running back second overall, but it’s even more curious why the Giants would invest that much in Barkley and not be more careful with him coming back from the high ankle sprain. Among the 30 running backs with 100 carries before Week 12, Barkley’s grade ranked 22nd in Pro Football Focus’ grades. We all assume Barkley is one of the best backs in the league, but the Giants didn’t do Barkley any favors by putting him back in the lineup too soon.
Many wondered if Barkley’s regression was inevitable anyway. While Barkley is a physical phenom, it was impossible to replicate his success on big plays. As a rookie he led the NFL with 16 runs of 20-plus yards and seven runs of 40 or more yards. Nobody else in the NFL had more than 11 20-yard runs or four 40-yard runs last season. Once defenses did a better job limiting Barkley’s big plays, his numbers took a huge hit.
Presumably, Barkley will heal up over the offseason and in 2020 he’ll look more like he did as a rookie. We all saw his talent last season. The big plays will return, at least somewhat. But this season is a lost one, and the 2-9 Giants need to shut Barkley down soon. He’s too valuable to keep playing when he is not right physically. The Giants are in the mix for the No. 2 overall pick of the 2020 draft — we’re close to officially declaring the Cincinnati Bengals as on the clock for the first pick — and at some point it simply becomes foolish to play Barkley at less than 100 percent when it’s more beneficial to the franchise to lose games.
Hopefully next year Barkley looks like the same thrilling playmaker we saw last season. That’s good for the game. The Giants didn’t protect him well enough the first time around this season, but there’s still time for them to do the smart thing and sit him down.
Here’s a look at the coaches, players, executives or anyone else feeling the heat on Monday, after Week 12 of the NFL season.
HOT: Can Ron Rivera survive another losing season?
Rivera has been a good coach for the Carolina Panthers, with three division titles since taking over in 2011. The Panthers went 15-1 and won the NFC championship in 2015 under Rivera. Twice, Rivera has been named NFL coach of the year.
But owner David Tepper hasn’t experienced any of those good things. He bought the team in 2018. The Panthers went 7-9 last season and they fell to 5-6 this season after a crushing loss at the New Orleans Saints. Since a hot start to last season, the Panthers have lost 13 of their last 19 games.
Last week, Tepper had an impromptu session with reporters. There were two guidelines, according to Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer: Tepper wasn’t to be quoted directly, and he wouldn’t entertain questions about the long-term futures of Rivera or general manager Marty Hurney. But Fowler wrote that “Tepper left no doubt he’s dissatisfied with the Panthers’ long-term mediocrity,” and without being asked Tepper talked about the Panthers never posting consecutive winning seasons in franchise history. Tepper said he despises mediocrity.
We have no idea what Tepper is thinking when it comes to Rivera. But the Panthers are 5-6 and the promise of a hot start with Kyle Allen replacing injured Cam Newton at quarterback has dissipated. Finishing the season with a winning record probably isn’t going to happen.
The Panthers’ next coach probably won’t be as good as Rivera. But the owner seems to be getting impatient.
HOTTER: Jaguars aren’t ready to bench Nick Foles, yet
Football is a team sport. Quarterbacks don’t win or lose games by themselves. And still, it’s easy to look at a two-game losing streak for the Jaguars and wonder if the team made a mistake turning back to Foles.
Rookie Gardner Minshew played reasonably well, and he was replaced when Foles was healthy. Two straight losses since Foles’ return have knocked the Jaguars out of the playoff race, but Jaguars coach Doug Marrone seems content to stick with the veteran. Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union said that Marrone balked at the idea of changing quarterbacks.
“We got to figure it out with the guys we have,” Marrone said.
You have to wonder when the time will come to bench Foles, the Jaguars’ big free-agent signee this offseason. Or when the time will come to fire Marrone.
The Jaguars’ 42-20 loss at the Tennessee Titans wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. They looked awful. They’re 4-7 and the question is whether Marrone will get fired.
“I can’t speak for all the other head coaches, it is what it is,” Marrone said, via Frenette. “I don’t worry about it. You don’t win, you always have a chance to get fired. If you win, you still have a chance to get fired if you don’t do it well. I leave that up to other people. I’m not going to waste any time worrying about that.”
HOTTEST: NFL officiating under the microscope again
Two of the biggest headlines from Sunday’s games had to do with officiating. That’s nothing new, which is part of the problem.
New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton took a shot at officials for calling defensive pass interference after a Panthers challenge on a key fourth-quarter play, saying “quite honestly, it wasn’t New York’s best game.” And given how the NFL has resisted changing on-field calls for pass interference, it was weird that the league decided to reverse that non-call. It was no worse than any number of potential interference calls that haven’t been reversed.
The Saints won, so it didn’t turn into a full-blown controversy. The same can’t be said for the Dallas Cowboys tripping penalty that everyone noticed.
Dallas got a first down on an Ezekiel Elliott catch late in the game, trailing 13-9, but tripping was called on center Travis Frederick. Replays showed that the call was bad. The Cowboys were set back 10 yards, threw two incompletions and that was the game.
Officiating an NFL game is hard. The game is insanely fast. But the league is not doing anyone favors by emphasizing so many rules. The NFL needs to emphasize not throwing flags instead. Too many times a key penalty is called, we see the replay and the announcers say something like “I don’t know ... don’t see much there.” Nobody tunes in to see borderline penalties called. Calls will be missed, that’s inevitable. But the NFL would be better off with a simple decree: Don’t throw so many penalty flags.
SCALDING: Lions coach Matt Patricia might need a good Thanksgiving
When your season is spiraling out of control and you lose to a 1-9 team, everyone is under scrutiny. Matthew Stafford injury or not, you can’t lose to the Washington Redskins these days.
Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel laid out how the Lions cited mediocrity not being good enough when they fired Jim Caldwell, who had way more success than Patricia. What happens when the Lions are less than mediocre?
Thursday might help determine the futures of Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn. It’s tough to tell what Lions ownership is thinking, but an embarrassing day on a big Thanksgiving stage against the Chicago Bears would shine a harsh light on the Lions’ struggles. People who quit worrying about the Lions weeks ago will notice that their second-year head coach is guiding a sinking ship.
The Lions get one day a year to be the center of the football world. Losing to Washington when you’re one of nine games on the early Sunday slate isn’t ideal. But a bad loss with the entire NFL world watching on Thanksgiving is going to be even worse.
Stafford’s injury hasn’t helped Detroit, clearly. Yet there haven’t been any other signs of progress, including a defense that has been miserable most of the season. On the surface, the first Thanksgiving game is between two teams whose seasons are already lost. But it might be a pretty important game for Patricia and Quinn.
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