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Bears wary of Saquon Barkley, who will ‘run around you, run through you’

Barkley returns to Soldier Field coming off perhaps the worst game of his career.

New York Giants v Chicago Bears
The Bears tackle Giants running back Saquon Barkley last year.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Ask Chuck Pagano whom Giants running back Saquon Barkley reminds him of, and he talks it through.

“Who’s the greatest hurdler that you’ve seen?” the Bears’ defensive coordinator said Thursday. “The guy that can be running full speed, jump over the top of a guy, land on one foot, spin, put his hand down, keep his balance, keep running north and south, gaining more yards. This guy’s a special, special talent.”

Then he comes to the answer.

“Earl Campbell,” he said.

The former Oilers great is one of 12 running backs on the NFL’s all-century team.

“He’ll run around you, run through you,” Pagano said of Barkley. “[He’s] got speed. Once he gets in the open field, he’ll take it the distance.”

If Barkley had run behind the Lions’ offensive line last Sunday, he might have. The Bears made 35-year-old Adrian Peterson, who had been a free agent just a week earlier, look like the star he used to be.

They played without anchor Eddie Goldman, the nose tackle who opted out because of the coronavirus. Their defense was so poor that Peterson, over four of his five longest runs, racked up 52 yards before a Bear even touched him. His average of 6.6 yards per carry was second-highest among all NFL running backs in Week 1.

“After last week, you know they’re going to try to run the ball right at us,” Pagano said. “Whether it’s between the tackles, get [Barkley] on the edge, throw him the ball in the pass game, screens . . . we’ve got our hands full.”

Sunday will be the third time in three seasons the Bears have faced Barkley. The first two meetings had different results.

As a rookie against the Bears in 2018, he ran 24 times for 125 yards and caught three passes for 21 more. He hurdled safety Adrian Amos on one run; on another, he gained 22 yards on a third-and-23, was tackled with six seconds left in the half and set up a 57-yard Giants field goal.

In last year’s meeting, Barkley played through a high-ankle sprain, and it showed. The Bears held him to 59 yards on 17 carries — and 31 of those were during a fourth-quarter drive with the Bears ahead by 12.

“I don’t think we have to discuss anything out of the normal,” Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “But it does help that we’ve gone against him — we know what type of back he is. So we just have to do our job.”

Barkley returns to Soldier Field coming off perhaps the worst game of his career. In the Giants’ opener Monday night against the Steelers, he ran 15 times for six yards — yes, you read that right — and caught six passes for 60 yards. Thirty-eight yards came on a screen pass that ended only after Barkley hurdled Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton.

Poor pass protection by Barkley led Giants all-time rushing leader Tiki Barber, now a radio host, to wonder this week if Barkely is truly a third-down back.

“Obviously, Tiki is a legend — done a lot of great things for this franchise,” Barkley told Giants reporters. “So I’m not going to look at it as disrespect. I’m going to look at it as a challenge.”

Giants coach Joe Judge promised better things.

“We’re going to make sure we have everyone rising up,” he said.

The Bears have spent the week preparing for Barkley, hoping to avoid a repeat of mistakes by their rushing defense in Week 1. But that only goes so far.

“X’s and O’s are just X’s and O’s,” nose tackle John Jenkins said. “It all depends on beating the guy and outplaying the guy that’s in front of you.”