A familiar story for Texans’ defense against Giants’ Saquon Barkley: dominated by elite runner

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) celebrates with wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins after scoring a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (John Minchillo, Associated Press)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Saquon Barkley bulled ahead, plowing through defenders by running behind his shoulder pads with classic body lean as his powerful legs churned out yards.

The New York Giants’ star running back did so at the expense of the Texans’ beleaguered defense.

Ranked last in the NFL and allowing 180.6 rushing yards per game, the Texans were no match for Barkley as he pounded them for 152 rushing yards and a touchdown on a career-high 35 carries.

Not stopping Barkley was one of the major reasons why the 1-7-1 Texans absorbed a 24-16 defeat Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

It was a recurring theme for a defense that has struggled to stop the run all season, and hasn’t tackled well. One of the most glaring plays was rookie safety Jalen Pitre missing a tackle in the open field on wide receiver Darius Slayton on a 54-yard touchdown catch.

“We knew it was tough duty, stopping a great running back like Barkley,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “We let him break out a few times. Normally, you break it out, there’s got to be a missed tackle in there somewhere.”

Between plays like that one and Barkley churning out runs, including a long of 27 yards, the Texans’ defense was overmatched.

They left the visitors locker room in a mood of frustration.

“It’s high,” defensive tackle Maliek Collins said. “I can only speak for myself., but it’s high for me. It’s an old saying. They say, ‘Close but no cigar.’ You can be as close as you want to be, but at some point you have to finish.”

Barkley averaged 4.3 yards per carry. One of the most talented backs in the NFL, Barkley feasted on the Texans’ vulnerable defense.

“It was fun,” Barkley said.

The Texans allowed 191 rushing yards overall, an average of 4.1 yards per carry.

Between previous setbacks against Jonathan Taylor, Khalil Herbert, Josh Jacobs and other backs, the Texans’ defense has hit a boiling point in terms of exasperation.

“We’ve got to find a way,” Texans middle linebacker and defensive signal caller Christian Kirksey said. “We can’t have the same excuses: ‘We’re so close, we play hard.’ It’s got to come down to us winning ball games and right now we’ve got to find a way to win. I don’t know what it is, but we’ve got to find a way to win. It’s time to win these games.”

Barkley didn’t do anything spectacular in terms of explosive runs, but he was more than quick and powerful enough to overpower the Texans’ defense.

“He’s one of the best backs in the league,” Kirksey said. “We all know that he’s their go-to guy. We know that we just didn’t get the job done. There’s not much to say about what we could have do, what we should have did. We just have to find a way to win.”

The Giants finished with 367 yards of total offense, but they were efficient in doing so. They converted 7 of 14 third downs.

Pitre was on his own when he missed the tackle on Slayton, who won the race to the end zone after the rookie safety from Baylor was unable to bring him down as the Giants took a 14-3 lead.

“That hurt us,” Smith said. “It is frustrating. You can only talk so much about, ‘We’re close, man, keep going. We’re going to get over the hump.

“Normally when you’re close, you eventually get over the hump. We realize what the problem is and what the results say a little bit, but we are close. Eventually, I do feel like we’re going to get over the hump. So far, we just finished the first half of the season but we still can see promise for the second half.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com.