Saquon Barkley already has more than half of his rushing production from the 2021 campaign through his first three games this season. Barkley’s 317 yards and two touchdowns on 53 carries (along with 13 catches for 91 yards) has him looking like the player who won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018 again, a far cry from last year’s struggles with just 593 yards and two touchdowns on 163 carries over 13 games.
Health is playing a big role, as Barkley is now two years removed from an ACL tear and is completely healed from the nagging ankle sprain that cost him time a year ago. He also took a look inward and realized he wasn’t making the same plays he was accustomed to, and had to get his mind and body back on the same page in order to break big plays again.
We got a chance to talk with Barkley — coming off a Monday night loss to the Cowboys in which he had 81 rushing yards on 14 carries including a long touchdown run — on behalf of his partnership with Courtyard by Marriott for a Fansgiving dinner at MetLife Stadium. We talked about how the Giants bounce back, his confidence returning this season, the improved vibes in the Giants locker room under Brian Daboll, and how the least they can do as a team is complete as hard as possible every Sunday.
What do you take away from a game like last night [against the Cowboys]? And as a team, what are the things that you try and pull from that moving forward?
Yeah, I mean, it was a hard fought loss. You gotta give credit to Dallas, they came out, they played amazing. They were able to get the win. It came down to the last drive. We gotta just be better as a team before that and also in that drive. We gotta execute. We gotta make make more plays, especially the offensive side of the ball, but you know, you go, you watch film, you learn, and you make your adjustments and you get ready for Chicago.
For you personally, what do you feel is the biggest difference in your play so far this season compared to last year that’s been able to get you off to such a strong start?
Being able to make that guy miss. I feel like I wasn’t breaking those tackles last year. Just had a little disconnect between my mind and my body. But having that back, having that confidence, and also want to give credit to the guys up front. They’re doing a tremendous job of making me look good.
Having a full offseason again, what did that do for you and being able to go into an offseason and a training camp knowing that that you’re healthy and able to put in the work that you’re accustomed to putting in? Do you feel like that’s showing up now at the start of the season?
Yeah, I mean, the year I hurt my knee, I did a lot of work on my knee, on my body to put myself in position [to bounce back], and it was unfortunate — stepped on someone’s foot and hurt my ankle. And that kind of set me back, but all the work that I put in is all coming in now. Obviously I trained hard this offseason, too, but all the stuff that felt like it was pointless, just the littlest step ups, this and that and the third, and I’m just like dang, like, I don’t know. You don’t really see the growth, but that was just all creating a strong base for me to go out and trust myself, and like I said, last year with the injury really kind of set me back.
But now I’m able to go out there and just perform with confidence, and that’s all credit to the work that I put in during rehab from my knee and I had a lot of great people helping. And then being able to have a healthy offseason this last offseason that we just had, to take time off, to be able to say, you know what, give my body a break. And then we know when it’s time to get after it, we get after it and prepare myself and put myself in a situation where I can go out there and perform for the season.
You mentioned feeling like you can make guys miss again. I noticed a few plays before you broke that touchdown run, you got pulled down and you kind of looked at your line and tapped your chest like, “That was on me, I missed one.” Is that feeling back of being able to see it and then saying like, okay, that’s one I got to make, and then executing the next time because you made a couple of guys miss in the hole when you busted it outside for that touchdown?
Yeah, for sure. It was actually the same play. The first one we ran the same play. The first one I let the safety tackle me — it’s the NFL, you’re gonna get got. They’re gonna make their plays, but I have the confidence and my line had confidence that the majority of times that I get up to that safety or get to that second level, I’m gonna make that guy miss, and I just knew that when the next opportunity comes, I gotta make it pay for it. And we were able to do that. But at the end of the day, we got to make more plays like that. Whether it’s myself or any of the other guys on offense, because 13 points ain’t gonna cut. It ain’t gonna get it done, especially in that game. So we should, collectively, be better and find a way to help our team win games.
Y’all have gotten off to a solid start even with the loss to Dallas. What have you been impressed with the most about Brian Daboll and this new coaching staff and what they’ve been able to bring to the team as a whole? Because it seems like there’s a raised level of confidence in what you guys are doing.
Just the energy that they bring. The personalities that they bring and letting us let our personality show. I would say that’s the biggest thing, just the differences in energy and just the vibes — having a DJ at practice, having DJs at the game, listening to music in the locker before the game. All the things that we do when there’s little competition stuff, just for all of us, especially in offseason, to build, to get to know each other, to build that trust and build that brotherhood.
And I think you’ve seen that kind of show in the first couple games, but it’s a long season and only a couple games into the season, so we’ve got to continue to fall in love with the process, continue to trust each other, and especially, I’m excited to see how we respond after this week, after a loss. It’s easier to come into a game week where you just had a win or two wins in a row. But you know, it’s different with a loss. So just got to continue to have that same mindset, continue to have that same energy and get ready for Chicago.
As a running back, what’s the process of learning a new offense when they come in and they’re changing some stuff? Because it’s not just the run game, it’s you’ve got to learn new pass protection and routes and things like that. What’s been that process like for you going through another another coordinator change here?
It’s been easy. It’s been easy because they make it easy. They do a really good job, our coaches are great, great teachers. The thing that’s hard about it … because everybody runs the same stuff in NFL, but it’s just different terminology. Just different ways how we want to set this block up, or what’s the landmark here. That’s the difference and you get to knock that out in camp and OTAs. That was a big, big thing, having OTAs and being able to get in with the coaches early and learn the offense and learn the system and just carry over to camp and now the regular season.
How did this partnership with Courtyard by Marriott come about for you with this Fansgiving event and everything you’re working on with them?
Yeah, I’m partnered with Courtyard by Marriott, the official hotel of the NFL. Just, for me, I love just getting the opportunity to give back and engage with fans and this is what Courtyard is doing. Giving fans a real, cool, unique experience to tap into fandom and having the Fansgiving on the 50 yard line at MetLife Stadium and be able to have dinner with me at MetLife and get to show them the ins and outs of MetLife behind the scenes. And the way fans can do this is by posting videos on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram and make sure they use #CourtyardFanContest. Like I said, it’s fun to engage with fans and I look forward to seeing the videos, and when we’re able to do this and have Fansgiving, interact with the fans and have a great time.
You played college ball at a place where there’s a rabid fan base at Penn State, and then you come to New York where obviously it’s a passionate fan base. Knowing that group behind you is so passionate and they’re going to let you know about it when it’s going well, and they’re going to let you know about when it maybe isn’t going so well, what does that do to kind of keep that that fuel going for you guys as players?
It definitely helps when you play for a major fan base. Not everyone can say that and I was blessed enough to have that at Penn State, and then coming to the NFL and having that with New York and New Jersey and all the great fans here. At the end of the day, you just want to go out there and give them something to be proud about. And you know, I feel like that’s something that is controllable. You would love to win every single game, but you know, sometimes they don’t work that way. But something that you can control is how you go out there, how you compete, your effort, and the way you go out there as a team and play and fight with grit. And I feel like that’s been shown the past couple of games and we got to keep that going.