Daniel Jones was scrambling for his life and lateraled the ball to Saquon Barkley to salvage something positive on a busted play.
Barkley’s 5-yard rush off a designed pass was his second-longest carry of the first half. It didn’t get any better from there.
Yes, it was that kind of historically bad night for the Giants rushing attack in a 26-16 season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
How bad? Barkley rushed for 6 yards on 15 attempts — the lowest numbers of their kind in the NFL this century, behind LaDainian Tomlinson’s 7 yards in 2005 and Rudi Johnson’s 9 in 2007. Since 1970, only five others have run for fewer than 10 yards on at least 15 carries.
“Not really too concerned about the stats,” Barkley said. “Got to give credit where it’s due: They have a great defensive front. I have to be better for the team.”
With three new starters, the Giants offensive line had the same problems creating lanes for Barkley that last year’s unit did for a bulk of the season. As a result, the pass protection — which started off surprisingly effective against the fierce rush of T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree — weakened as the game progressed and the Steelers defense realized it was facing a one-dimensional offense.
Barkley’s first nine carries went for a total of negative-3 yards and Dion Lewis (1 yard on one carry) and Jones (negative-1 yard on one carry) couldn’t save the Giants from finishing a first half in the red on the ground for the first time since Dec. 1, 2002 against the Titans.
It took Barkley until his 14th carry — with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter — to break into positive yardage. He lowered his shoulder on a 7-yard run to get to the 4-yard line, but Jones threw an interception in the end zone on the next play to kill a 19-play, 87-yard drive that ate nearly nine minutes of clock.
“We’re going to stay aggressive with the run game,” coach Joe Judge said. “Saquon is going to be a difference-maker in how good this team is going to be, and we’re going to stay with him. It’s not something we are going to shy away from. We have to improve on the run game.”
It was reminiscent of when Barkley was held to 1 yard on 13 carries by the Jets. He was unselfishly playing through a high ankle sprain then. This time? Just a one-sided battle in the trenches and television cameras caught the frustrations on Barkley’s face on the sideline.
“I guess I probably showed emotion on my face,” Barkley said. “I’m human.”
The Giants trailed by two scores within 41 seconds of the fourth and ran four offensive plays in the first 10 minutes of the quarter, so Jones was forced to go to the air more frequently. Barkley finished with six catches for 61 yards and Jones rushed for 22 yards.