TAMPA — After leading the NFL with 19.5 sacks in 2019, Shaquil Barrett became known as Sack Barrett.
“I’m retiring that name,” said Barrett, who signed a four-year, $68 million contract in March. “I’m Shaquil Barrett. With one sack, I have to earn that back.”
Indeed, Barrett is the highest-paid player on the most underachieving defensive unit and owns only one of the Bucs’ three sacks this season. Not surprisingly, that ranks last in the league.
Certainly, there are a bunch of reasons for such a glaring lack of production.
It’s a copycat league and teams are abandoning the run, throwing a lot of quick passes to the perimeter — lots of bunch formations and bubble screens to tight ends and receivers — which doesn’t give Barrett or the Bucs’ pass rushers much time to get to the quarterback.
But all that sounds like an excuse because it is. Even though the Bucs’ pass rush has affected the quarterback (two tipped passes against the Falcons resulted in as many pick-sixes for safety Mike Edwards), Barrett and his teammates are getting paid to put the passer on the ground.
Only Barrett, Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston have done so this season.
What’s the answer?
“We’ve got to win and bring a mentality that no matter what’s going on the other side — chip blocks, one on one — we’ve got to win when we get our opportunities,” Barrett said. “I haven’t been winning enough, and I’ve been working on it in practice trying to get back to where I need to be at. ... Sometimes, on a three-step drop you may not get there, you’ve just got to keep on winning because they may hold the ball and when they do hold the ball, we need to be there.”
The Bucs also have played some pretty elite quarterbacks with an array of weapons. The Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, the Falcons’ Matt Ryan and the Rams’ Matthew Stafford are surrounded by playmakers.
Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones is not holding onto the ball but he’s only averaging 5.4 yards per attempt.
“Most definitely we’re ready to take advantage of a young quarterback,” Barrett said. “They’re usually a little slower in their reads, hold the ball a little longer. Actually, Mac Jones has done a good job getting the ball to the check down and getting the ball out of his hands. It’s still going to be a challenge to get to him because of the scheme they have for a young quarterback.”
Last week, coaches said there was a lack of energy on defense. That may have had something to do with the absence of linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, who missed the game with hand and shoulder injuries.
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“Man, JPP, his energy, his leadership, we missed it all last week,” Barrett said. “... We can’t rely on one guy to bring (energy). Everybody has to go out there and bring it.”
Pierre-Paul did not practice until Friday and was limited. He is listed a questionable, but it may be hard for coach Bruce Arians to keep him off the field.
“He brings it,” Arians said of Pierre-Paul. “It’s in the locker room. It’s infectious. It’s contagious. He’s one of those guys when I told him he’s traveling, he said, ‘If I’m traveling, I’m playing!’”
The secondary remains upbeat even though it is beat up. Sean Murphy-Bunting already was lost to a dislocated elbow and his replacement, Jamel Dean, is out with a knee injury.
That means after only three days of practice, cornerback Richard Sherman could see action against the Patriots, though it is more likely Dee Delaney will start. Barrett believes the Bucs’ front seven can do more to help their beleaguered secondary.
“We’ve just got to make the tackles,” Barrett said. “We’ve been missing some tackles. We’ve got to have great pursuit to the ball. ... When we do read the screen … we’ve got to turn around and chase him and stop trying to get in the throwing lane. I’ve just got to get down the line, chase it down, because the way teams are playing us, it’s a little frustrating especially for pass rushers.”
The real value of Richard Sherman
It’s been two years since Sherman played a full season and performed at a Pro Bowl level. He did that in 2019 for the 49ers before an Achilles injury limited him to five games last season.
Sherman believed he would be “foolish” to think he could go out Sunday and play at a high level. But thanks’ to Dean’s injury, Sherman will be active.
“We’ll let him learn some things in case he has to he can go out there and function at a high level,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said.
But Sherman’s real value will be providing a young secondary with an accomplished veteran who can calm some nerves.
“He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge at the corner position that sometimes players hear things better from players than they do from coaches” Bowles said.
Tom Brady is the seventh quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl, only to return the next year to visit his former team and old stadium as an opponent and start. The other six: Ken Stabler, Jim McMahon, Jeff Hostetler, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner and Trent Dilfer.
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