PHILADELPHIA — The first he ran against the Eagles, Saquon Barkley needed just 13 attempts to amass 130 yards. Four games after that outing, Barkley vaulted over his NFL high with last week’s 142-yard eruption against the Buccaneers.
In that Oct. 11 meeting with Philadelphia, Barkley had runs of 46 and 50 yards, plus a short reception he took 55 yards as part of a nine-catch, 99-yard receiving showing in the Eagles’ 34-13 victory at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants want the big plays out of Barkley, but he heads into Sunday’s rematch focusing more on taking “dirty’’ runs of three or four yards, if need be, accelerating his pace at the line of scrimmage with more decisive decisions.
“This kid is a special player, a special talent,’’ Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “I just remember going back and watching our game from last time. He was just hard to bring down. You have to make a point of emphasis of it. You got to tackle. He’s such a big, powerful guy that he has breakaway speed. Sometimes, it’s impossible, but you kind of have to get two or three bodies on him. He’s a tremendous running back, and a load to bring down.’’
This is a return to Pat Shurmur’s NFL breeding ground. He made his NFL coaching debut in 1999 as a tight ends coach for the Eagles, starting a 10-year run working for Andy Reid. Shurmur returned to the Eagles in 2013 as the offensive coordinator for Chip Kelly, for a total of 13 years as an Eagles assistant.
“They’re extremely passionate about their team,’’ Shurmur said. “They love their team. They’re not afraid to show their pure emotion, good and bad. I think I’m good with that because I think genuine is good. They show what they’re genuinely feeling in terms of their team. If the team is having a tough, tough stretch, they let them know it, but they cheer as loud as any fans in the league for their team when they’re playing well.”
In two games since landing with the Eagles via trade, WR Golden Tate has just seven receptions for 67 yards and thus far is not worth the 2019 third-round pick the Eagles sent to the Seahawks.
“I don’t know if it’s been more difficult, but it’s been challenging to integrate him,’’ offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “If we can do a better job of staying on the field and having drives, then everybody gets more involved in the offense.’’
The Giants on defense frequently have issues covering tight ends. This could be problematic, as Zach Ertz leads the Eagles with 77 receptions for 804 yards and five touchdowns. Ertz had seven catches for 43 yards and one TD in the first meeting.
“Zach is a target of choice for good reason,’’ Shurmur said. “He’s an outstanding player. They exploit matchups well, they target him even in situations where he’s covered, he’s a tall receiver. He and Carson [Wentz] can play above the rim with high throws on shorter safety/linebacker-type guys in coverage. It’s just the way it plays out.”