Through two games, Derek Barnett doesn’t have a sack. So if that’s your only metric to evaluate pass rushers, then he’s not playing very well.
But, as is normally the case, sacks don’t always tell the whole story. Are sacks important? Heck yeah. They’re game-changing plays and Barnett will need to pick them up as the season goes along. It’s just that all pressures don’t end with sacks.
There’s a reason why Jim Schwartz said he isn’t worried. Because if pressure is there, the Eagles have to trust that sacks will come. And the pressure, at least from Barnett, has been there. And there’s more that goes into sacks: How quickly is the QB getting rid of the ball? Are the corners covering? Are the corners playing 10 yards off the line so the QB has an option to release early? Is the offense going max protect?
It all plays a role and a lot of it has nothing to do with whether or not the lineman gets pressure.
“You can't judge everything those guys do on the sacks,” Schwartz said. “You have to just judge it as team defense, like I talked about with giving up a big play. It's never one thing.
“Actually I thought our guys rushed well, and I thought they were coming hard. Production will come.”
While Barnett doesn’t have a sack yet this season, he does have six quarterback hits, which ranks him second in the NFL to just Myles Garrett. We’re not comparing the two — Garrett is a truly dynamic player — but Barnett has actually played better early this season than you might think. And that’s after his 2018 season ended on the shelf with a torn rotator cuff.
So let’s take a look at Barnett’s pressure in the first couple games (starting with the most recent) and the reason Schwartz expects the sacks to come:
This was the first play from the Atlanta where Barnett really jumped off the tape. It was 3rd-and-15 with 4:29 left in the first quarter. On this play, Matt Ryan completes a quick pass to Devonta Freeman for five yards and the Falcons are forced to punt.
We heard so much about Barnett’s bend coming out of college, but this is a pure bull rush against left tackle Jake Matthews, a former-first round pick, six-year starter and Pro Bowler last year.
And Barnett literally lifted the 309-pound offensive tackle off the ground and toward Ryan. Fletcher Cox had a good rush on that play too and got there around the same time. This wasn’t a sack, wasn’t a QB hit, but it was a productive rush from Barnett. Sometimes these things don’t show up on the stat sheet.
This next play shows just how quick Barnett can be laterally. This was on a 1st-and-10 in the second quarter. Barnett got around Matthews so quickly. Matthews tried a chop block and came up empty. This was Barnett’s first of three QB hits Sunday night.
This pass was completed for 1 yard, but Barnett shuffled to his right and was barely touched by Matthews.
This next play comes late in the fourth quarter; that’s good to see. In his second game back from missing the end of last season and slowly ramping up his workload in the summer, Barnett is still putting in good reps with under three minutes left in the fourth.
On this one, he’s running a stunt with Fletcher Cox. Barnett uses a spin move to get inside. He first sets up Matthews with a step outside before the spin.
Basically, Barnett clogs up both blockers for a second, which should give Cox enough time to get free coming around the edge.
Somehow, though, Barnett gets through those two blockers himself and gets a hit on the QB. This was his third QB hit of the game.
Now, let’s take a closer look from Week 1 and two rushes that were really impressive.
This first play we’ll look at comes late in the second quarter on 2nd-and-6. Washington left tackle Donald Penn is so concerned about Barnett’s speed and bend around the edge, that Barnett is able to work his inside shoulder and get to Case Keenum in a hurry. Keenum has to rush his throw and it’s incomplete. At the end of the play, Barnett pretty violently tosses Keenum to the ground.
Here you can see the overset from Penn. He needs to kick out and get wide enough to prevent Barnett from turning the corner, but now he left himself open to the inside rush. And even in his first game back from injury, Barnett has plenty of power. He plants his right foot and drives toward Penn’s inside shoulder.
Because Penn got too wide in his set, he doesn’t have the leverage to shut down Barnett’s interior power move. Barnett gets to Keenum quickly.
This last play is a truly great rush from Barnett. It happened with just 23 seconds left in that Washington game. Remember that inside pressure from before? Well, now Penn has to guard against it and Barnett not only knows that; he uses it to his advantage.
This is basically like Allen Iverson crossing up a defender.
You’ll see Barnett’s first step was outside, then he sells the inside pass rush and gets Penn’s momentum going that way. With Penn’s momentum working with him, Barnett uses a big-boy club to one-hand throw the 315-pound left tackle out of his way. That man has a family, Derek.
Aside from his ability as a pass rusher, Barnett is also the type of player this organization loves. He is a plus run defender and hustles on every play, often in pursuit of the quarterback.
The point of all this isn’t to diminish the importance of sacks. Those are important plays and the Eagles haven’t had an edge player get double digit sacks in a season since Connor Barwin in 2014. They could certainly benefit if Barnett is able to start piling up sacks soon.
The point here is that I think those sacks will come. Because Barnett is already getting great pressure. And he’s off to a much better start this season than a lot of people probably think.
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