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Now that he has opponents’ attention, Bucs’ Shaquil Barrett must adjust

Eduardo A. Encina’s Early Read: The Panthers had the perfect game plan to stop him. Today, Barrett faces the challenge of reinventing himself.
Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett.
Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett. [ MONICA HERNDON | Times ]
Published Oct. 27, 2019

TAMPA — Shaquil Barrett’s start to this season was out of this world. No one, not even Barrett himself, believed he could keep up that pace.

After nine sacks in the Bucs first four games, Barrett has been held without a sack in the past two. Teams haven’t just prevented Barrett from getting to the quarterback. They’ve taken him out of the game.

Barrett had two tackles at New Orleans and one against Carolina in London Oct. 13, and that tackle didn’t come until the game’s final four minutes.

“Yeah, he’s in the big leagues now,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. "Everybody knows who he is and where he’s at.”

The Panthers’ plan to stop Barrett featured was preventing him from getting momentum into the backfield.

“I’ve just got to watch it and learn how to beat it,” Barrett said this week. “They’ve been playing a little bit more of a game plan for me.”

When Barrett is successful, he’s getting a quick drive off the line. He gets leverage on a blocker and then fires off one of his many moves to get past him. Carolina prevented Barrett from getting going.

Tight end Chris Manhertz shadowed Barrett for most of the game, as did fellow tight end Greg Olson. Manhertz, Olson and running back Christian McCaffrey used chip blocks, holding Barrett up on the way to running their routes to help out a tackle. A few times, the Panthers offensive line used slide protection to push Barrett away from the pocket.

But more than anything, it was double teams and sometimes triple teams that consumed Barrett.

“It’s a sign of respect, but at times it was overkill,” Barrett said. “I was like, ‘You really ain’t got to do all this.’ But it is respect, but it’s also a sign of disrespect too to the (offensive) tackle if they think he can’t block me by himself. I’d be mad if I was the tackle and you had to slide to me or chip to me every time, because pride and I don’t think anybody is continuously going to beat me one-on-one or even more than the amount that I want it to me.”

One play against the Panthers stood out. In the final two minutes of the first half, Carolina had a first and 10 at Bucs 29. The Panthers put three blockers on Barrett. As he tried to turn the edge on left tackle Dennis Daley, McCaffrey chipped him from the outside while left guard Greg Van Roten held the inside.

That left interior rushers Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh, as well as opposite edge rusher Carl Nassib, in one-on-one matchups, and they each pushed their man back into quarterback Kyle Allen. Vea and Suh shared a sack of Allen for a 12-yard loss.

Vea, Suh and Nassib each recorded a sack against the Panthers, which was the price for putting so much attention on Barrett.

“Three (blockers), that’s real,” Barrett said after the game. “So I see what guys like Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, Von (Miller) got to go through.”

The best news Barrett receives this week is that outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul will be active Sunday for the first time this season. Regardless of how many snaps Pierre-Paul, who led the team with 12.5 sacks last season, plays, his presence alone forces teams to account for him. Barrett will benefit most.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard