Despite the addition of Michael Bennett this offseason, the Eagles have made Derek Barnett a starter in his second NFL season.
Now, of course, that doesn’t matter as much with this defense and the rotation they implement, but it’s still saying something that Barnett — not Bennett or Chris Long — is starting games.
Barnett had an OK rookie season, picking up five sacks in limited playing time, but the team is expecting a nice jump from him in Year 2. He had a pretty quiet summer, and aside from a few big plays in the run game, a pretty quiet first two games.
But he did have a really nice game against the Colts on Sunday. And after the game, head coach Doug Pederson had some effusive praise for Barnett.
“It just seems like somewhere in the game, 96 is going to show up on make a play,” Pederson said after the game. “And he did that several times today.”
Then Pederson doubled down the next morning on WIP: “He’s all over the field. He’s a relentless player right now.”
All of that is high praise from a head coach. So with that high praise in mind, I took a closer look at Barnett’s game as a pass rusher on Sunday. Doug’s right. He made some plays.
We’ll start with what was really the play of the game, which means we’re jumping ahead to the fourth quarter for this one. It’s 4th-and-3 and the Colts are four yards away from the end zone and a lead with just 1:19 on the clock. The Eagles need a play.
Barnett is at RDE and he’s going against Colts LT Le’Raven Clark.
This is why the Eagles drafted Barnett: his bend. Barnett gets a nice jump off the ball and quickly bends around Clark, who was a little slow out of his stance.
Clark probably should have held Barnett, mauled him on this play. That was his only chance to save a sack. Barnett uses that bend to get around Clark and get a straight shot on Luck. Luck desperately wants to deliver the football, but where? There’s nothing open.
Now, Barnett has to do a better job of getting Luck to the ground here. I know the rules protecting the QB are in the back of everyone’s mind, but Luck is a big QB and if he’s able to stay on his feet and buy some time, it could have been deadly.
Still, though, a big play from Barnett when the Eagles desperately needed one. This is his first full sack of the season.
Now, that we have that full sack out of the way, here’s a play where he picked up a half, along with Fletcher Cox.
It’s 2nd-and-11 just after the two-minute warning in the second quarter. Barnett just got back in the game and is at RDE.
I like this play from Barnett because he gets off the ball quick and shows that he’s going to use his bend to try to get around Clark. Clark has to honor that; he’s expecting it. But instead of using finesse, Barnett is about to use a power move.
Because Clark wasn’t expecting a bullrush, he doesn’t have great leverage and leaves too much space between him and Barnett. And Barnett is now about to put him on roller skates.
Cox gets there at the same time and he goes through two blockers to do it. But this isn’t a review of Cox, who we already know is really damn good. This was a nice play from Barnett and a good sign that he was willing to switch up his pass rush here to catch the tackle off balance.
We’re now in the third quarter and it’s 2nd-and-8. On the play before this, Barnett tackled the running back for a short, two-yard gain. It was a nice play, but I want to focus on Barnett’s game as a pass rusher. He’s been really solid against the run so far this year, but they drafted him to hit quarterbacks.
Barnett is at RDE again and this time he has Haloti Ngata next to him. Ngata has been quiet through three games, but at times, does demand double teams. That’s going to happen here. The LG and LT double Ngata, which leaves Barnett a 1-on-1 vs. the TE. He better beat him.
No games here. Barnett just tries to overpower the tight end and pushes him back. Honestly, it would be ideal for Barnett to overpower him even more, but this will do.
Barnett helps collapse the pocket just quickly enough. Luck can’t step into this throw and tosses a floater out to T.Y. Hilton that should have been intercepted by Rodney McLeod.
This next play is in the third quarter, right after Carson Wentz threw an interception to give the Colts the ball in the red zone. The Eagles’ red zone defense was huge on Sunday and this is one play that really helped.
The jump Barnett got on this play was incredible. I’ve watched it about a thousand times and still can’t tell if he left a split-second too early. I don’t think he did.
But because of that jump, combined with his unique bend, Clark has no choice but to hold him and drag him down to the ground.
This play resulted in a 10-yard penalty and eventually the Colts settled for a 31-yard field goal to take a three-point lead. In a four-point win, this play helped keep four Colts points off the board.
Barnett is just 22 and he isn’t yet a dominant pass rusher. It’s too early to tell if he’ll ever get there. And playing against left tackles in this league isn’t easy. But we finally saw some really good things from Barnett against the Colts.
It’s just one game, but it’s something really solid to build on for the rest of the season.