Saquon Barkley grew up in Whitehall, Pennsylvania, not far from Allentown. He is very familiar with Eagles Nation and its qualities and its faults.
On Monday night, the former Penn State star will play against the team he will not admit he was a fan of growing up. He does admit that most of his friends and neighbors were rabid Eagles fans.
“Not just Whitehall, the whole town,” Barkley said at the weekly gaggle in front of his locker Thursday. “Where I’m from, I remember when I walked in school on Mondays, you would walk in and everyone would have their jersey on. Most of them would be Eagles fans. It was Eagles fans and Penn State fans, so it’s kind of weird because I played for Penn State and now I play for the Giants, so most of them have to kind of root for me anyway.”
Barkley was asked about his games against Philadelphia last year. The rookie torched the Birds in both games. On October 11, Barkley rushed 13 times for 130 yards and a touchdown. He also caught nine passes for 99 yards. The Eagles won the game 34-13.
On November 25, Barkley has another big day rushing 13 times for 101 yards and a score. He caught seven passes for 41 yards and another touchdown, but Big Blue lost the game 25-22.
Barkley was asked if he remembered what went right in those games, and what you might be able to use against them this time.
“Well, the first game I just was in a groove,” said Barkley. “Not really much more to say about that, but in the second game, we were able to run the ball really well, get up on them early, last year. Then, the second half, I don’t want to say went away from the running, but I guess turnovers happened and they were able to come back, but that’s last year. You can go back and watch the film on it, which I did, and see the success that I was able to have against them and what I wasn’t able to have against them, but it’s a new year. They’re going to attack it different. I’ll just try to have more success this year and do whatever I can to help my team win this week.”
This season has gone well for Barkley. He has played in just nine of the Giants 12 games due to a high ankle sprain. He has rushed 137 times for 544 yards and two touchdowns. His receiving numbers are also down, recording 38 catches for 291 yards and one touchdown.
Barkley will no doubt want to get untracked this week. He will be facing one of best run stoppers in the NFL in Fletcher Cox in the middle of that defensive line. Barkley was asked how he will try to work around him. The running back admitted he is a fan.
“Fletcher Cox is like easily one of my favorite players in the league to watch,” Barkley said. “Obviously, he’s well known, but I don’t think he gets enough respect as he should from what I’ve taken as we’ve played him. Those last two games last year, I remember there was a run where I broke out to the outside and it ended up being a penalty, but I got like a 10-yard run on it and it felt like a DB was chasing me and I looked up and it was 91. So, he’s a heck of a player, they’re a heck of a defense over there, they have a heck of a team over there. So, we’ve just got to continue to work and try to execute better than them on Monday night.”
Barkley was asked if he is feeling like himself over the last few weeks.
“Yeah, I thought so. I mean, I guess in my standards it’s not really a good game, but that I broke over 100 yards, was averaging over like four yards a carry, something like that, so I feel like I’m getting back to myself, but I’m not really focusing on individual stats,” Barkley said. “I don’t care if I go for 250 yards, I don’t care if I go for 50 yards, I just want to go out there and help my team win football games. Coming down to the home stretch of the season, got four games left, try to finish it strong as a team and it starts with Monday Night Football in front of everyone, so try to go out there and execute better as a team and put ourselves in position to win.”
Barkley was asked what he has seen from Miles Sanders, watching him, and how much have he been able to talk with him through his rookie year.
“I talked to him earlier this week, FaceTime, and I’ve talked to him a good amount this season, even last year when he was in college still,” Barkley said. “He’s a heck of a player. Heck of a football player, you could see him coming more into himself and more into a role where he eventually probably will take off and be the guy in the future. But, he’s catching the ball a lot better—not a lot better than he did in college, I don’t think he was presented with that responsibility like he has been in the NFL so far. But great vision, very strong, he has impressive legs. I know people talk about my legs all the time, but he has impressive legs and he’s fast, you’ve seen that 60-yard touchdown against the Bills. But, I’m more just happy because I know the work he put in to get to where he’s at, and that’s what you dream about, being in the NFL. I’m happy to see a guy that I trained and practiced with do it at a high level.”
Barkley was reminded that the Eagles have won nine of the last 10 meetings.
“I don’t know, I didn’t even know that stat that we’re one and nine against them,” he said. “I didn’t even know that. Sheesh, well yeah, if you put it that way, it probably would mean a lot just to go out there and get a win. Honestly, it’s a rivalry, but playing in Philly last year, they’ve got some different fans, so it would be pretty dope to go out there and get a win. But not the fact because it’s a rivalry, just because, like I said, it’s the next game and it’s on Monday night and like I was saying to him, a win could help spark something. The only thing we’ve got left is this last month of the season, so why not go out there and put it on the line?”
Barkley was asked about the drive into the Lincoln Financial Field parking lot last year and about those Philly fans and the interactions his father has in the stands last year.
“Every parking lot is different, but you might see different types of hand gestures when you’re going to Philly,” Barkley said, drawing a few laughs, no doubt. “But, that’s Philly. I remember my dad went to the game last year and my dad had to take a step back from himself and remember that he’s my father and we don’t want to be on the front cover of the paper in New York. So, a fan might have said something different that he didn’t really agree with, but I think my dad handled that in the right way. Those fans, they’re Philly. That’s how Philly is, but it’s fun. It’s always fun to go out there and play against them, so hopefully we go out there and get a win.” *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii