By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
TAMPA — No disrespect to Daniel Jones.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers feel the key to beating the New York Giants is slowing down Saquon Barkley, not necessarily exploiting the inexperience of a rookie quarterback who’ll be making his first NFL start when the teams meet Sunday.
“For us, we’ve got to stop No. 26. It all starts and ends with him,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “Then we’ll try to contain the quarterback because he’s a heck of a lot more mobile than the other guy.”
The “other” guy is Eli Manning, benched this week with the Giants (0-2) off to a slow start with a sputtering offense and even worse defense. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has been New York’s starting quarterback since the 10th game of 2004, Manning’s rookie season.
Jones was the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, and the Bucs (1-1) insist they aren’t underestimating him or the Giants’ offense, which despite averaging 420 yards per game has only scored four touchdowns the past two weeks.
“I think Daniel Jones is a very bright guy. He had a heck of a preseason. They wouldn’t be making this call if he didn’t have a great preseason and them thinking he could do the job,” Arians said, referring to the rookie completing 29 of 34 passes for 416 yards, two TDs and no interceptions.
“I think the biggest thing is just keeping him off balance,” Arians added of the approach to defending an inexperienced quarterback. “First and foremost, stop the run. Stop the run, try to take the easy bootlegs away and make them play from the pocket.”
Tampa Bay’s rejuvenated defense did a good job of slowing down Christian McCaffrey in beating Carolina last week, however stopping Barkley poses an even bigger challenge.
The second-year pro is the NFL’s second-leading rusher with 227 yards and a touchdown through two games. He 152 yards from scrimmage and scored three TDs — two rushing, one receiving — in New York’s 38-35 victory over the Bucs last season.
The Bucs limited McCaffrey to 37 yards rushing and 16 receiving, and even closed out a six-point victory over the Panthers with a confidence-building goal-line stand, though Arians cautions against comparing Sunday’s task.
“They’re on different planets. Saquon’s bigger, stronger, faster,” Arians said. “He’s got more 50-yard runs than anybody I’ve seen in a long time.”