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Shaquil Barrett is the Buccaneers’ new sack machine

Without Shaquil Barrett’s three-sack performance, the Buccaneers probably would’ve lost to the Panthers in Week 2.

Buccaneers DE Shaquil Barrett celebrates a sack
Shaquil Barrett finished Week 2 with a career-best three sacks.

After reviewing the film of the Buccaneers’ 20-14 road victory over the Panthers in Week 2, I noticed that some of my initial impressions of how the game went in real time were actually just a little bit off. To be specific, while Carolina quarterback Cam Newton certainly did not have a good game throwing the football, overall his performance wasn’t dreadful, either. Furthermore, while Newton was off target on quite a few of his throws that night, I hadn’t given the Bucs’ defense enough credit for forcing Newton into some of those errant throws with pressure.

Turns out, the Bucs’ pass rush was on Newton’s ass all night long, and in the second half they really turned it up a notch. Whenever Newton couldn’t get the ball out of his hand quickly, he usually wound up having to try to avoid one of the pass rushers. What made matters worse is just about every time it looked like Newton and the Panthers were about to get the offense going, especially in the second half, bam here came the Bucs’ pass rush to screw everything up again.

One Tampa Bay pass rusher, in particular, stood out from the rest of them last Thursday night, and his superb play ended up being critical to getting that win. Shaquil Barrett signed a one-year deal this offseason after he spent his first five seasons with the Broncos working with great edge rushers like Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Barrett was no slouch himself in Denver, but it was hard for him to really make a name for himself while he was stuck behind future Hall of Fame players.

Now that he is starting in Tampa, he has exploded onto the scene in the first two weeks of this season.

As you will see after I break down three of Barrett’s biggest plays, if not for his heroics it is very likely the Buccaneers would’ve been heading back to the Bay area with an L. Instead, his momentum-shifting plays helped to lock up that win, putting the Bucs at 1-1 and tied atop the NFC South — in the middle of a division title hunt that just got a lot more interesting with the news that Saints quarterback Drew Brees will be out for an extended amount of time.

Because questions surround Newton’s health, it seems like Barrett’s performance might have been overlooked by a lot of people. I aim to change that, because he balled the hell out.

Let me start off the discussion by taking a look at Barrett’s first sack of the game.

Play No. 1: Barrett stopped the Panthers’ early second-half momentum dead in its tracks

Down 10-9 at halftime, the Panthers received the ball first to start the second half and Newton came right out firing. On the very first play of the third quarter, Newton was able to hit Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen for a 33-yard gain on a pass he threaded right past Tampa safety Jordan Whitehead. Olsen’s reception moved the Panthers all the way down to the Buccaneers’ 42-yard line and almost into field goal range in just one stinking play. Carolina probably couldn’t have imagined a better beginning to the second half.

And then Barrett showed up.

On the very next play of the same drive, Barrett was lined up as the edge rusher on the defense’s right edge, across from Panthers left tackle Daryl Williams. (After going back and watching their Week 1 loss to the Rams, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Panthers have a left tackle problem and it isn’t going away. Especially now that it has been exposed. They hid it well in the first game with quick passes, but Williams may just not be built for that left side.)

The Panthers were lined up in shotgun with their starting running back, Christian McCaffrey, offset to Barrett’s side. There were also two wide receivers lined up to that side, while two tight ends lined up on the opposite side of the formation right beside the right tackle.

With two tight ends in the game, the Bucs’ defense had to be on alert for a running play, and Carolina tried to capitalize by going with a play-action pass. The Panthers had one of the tight ends, Chris Manhertz, stay in and block, and after carrying out the play fake, McCaffrey would look to block, at least initially, to help stifle Tampa’s pass rush. At the same time, the two receivers along with Olsen went out on routes against a secondary they hoped would have bitten on the run fake.

In addition to Barrett, the Bucs had four other down linemen up front on that play, which gave them at least five potential pass rushers once the ball was snapped. In theory, the Panthers should have been able to handle five pass rushers relatively easy with their seven blockers (or six and a half after McCaffrey checked for blitz, then went out on a route). That, in turn, should have given Newton plenty of time to survey the field, allow the three routes to develop, then either deliver a pass or try to scramble ahead for any yards you can pick up.

In theory.

The problem for the Panthers was that while Manhertz and McCaffrey both stayed in to block, neither of them tried to block to their left to try to help out Williams. That meant Williams all alone on an island with Barrett on a play where it was going to take some time for the routes to come open.

That was a mistake!

Barrett, as a standup edge rusher, initially came off the ball a little slowly as if he was trying to sort out whether it was actually a running play or not. As soon as he recognized it was a pass, however, Barrett immediately hit the turbo button and transitioned into getting after the quarterback. Williams, who has mostly been a right tackle since being selected in the fourth round by the Panthers back in 2015, seemed to set as if he was expecting Barrett to come with a power rush or something. I say that because Williams had most of his weight leaning forward like he was bracing for contact.

That was another mistake.

As soon as Williams tried to shoot his punch at Barrett’s chest, Barrett hit him with a nice cross chop, where Barrett used his inside hand to chop down on Williams’ outside wrist. This had the intended effect of knocking Williams’ outside (left) hand down while his inside (right) arm was still fully extended, which forced his shoulders to turn perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, creating a short corner for Barrett to get by.

Buccaneers DE Shaquil Barrett sacks Panthers QB Cam Newton

All Williams could do at that point was to try to turn his hips, replace his outside hand on Barrett’s shoulder to push him, and try to ride him past the level of the quarterback. Unfortunately for Williams, that didn’t work because Barrett was so detailed-oriented with his rush that after he finished with his cross chop, he then came back up with a nice rip move with the same arm. That picture-perfect rip move kept Williams from getting his outside hand back on Barrett at all.

Newton had barely finished his dropback before Barrett was jumping on his back, taking him down for an 8-yard loss. Barrett’s handiwork took the Panthers all the way back to the 50-yard line, and turned what had looked like a very promising drive just one play before into a four-and-out.

But Barrett was just getting warmed up.

Play No. 2: Barrett kept the Panthers out of the end zone with the first of back-to-back sacks

The next time the Panthers’ offense got the ball back, a very similar scenario played out again. This time, it was the second play of the drive when Newton found Olsen for a big gain. Somehow the Bucs lost Olsen, of all people, right down the middle of the field. Newton immediately made them pay with a pass he dropped right in the bucket for a 41-yard gain. In two plays, Carolina had moved from its own 38-yard line down to the Bucs’ 21-yard line. Not only were the Panthers already in field goal range, but now they also had to be thinking about trying to get into the end zone for the first that night.

After a run by McCaffrey on first down didn’t yield any yards, the Panthers decided to try to drop back and throw the ball on second down.

Barrett was once again lined up on the defense’s right edge across from Williams, but this time the Bucs only had four down linemen, probably because the Panthers only had one tight end in the game. What was similar about this play and the previous play when Barrett got a sack, however, was the Panthers still didn’t see any reason to give Williams any help on the edge.

Yet another mistake.

This time, there was no hesitation from Barrett on the snap of the football. He took off in a hurry and forced Williams to try to step out to try to catch up to him. Once again Williams had his weight leaning forward, and once again Barrett made him pay for being off balance. As he approached Williams, Barrett flashed his hands at Williams’ chest to get Williams to throw his punch. As soon as Williams fell for it, Barrett used his outside (right) hand to club Williams’ outside (left) arm just hard enough to to turn Williams enough to once again give Barrett a short corner. At the same time, Barrett dipped low and again came through with a strong rip with his inside (left) arm underneath Williams’ outside (left) arm.

Buccaneers DE Shaquil Barrett sacks Panthers QB Cam Newton

Watching it in slow motion, it’s a minor miracle Newton didn’t fumble the ball when Barrett jumped on his back to sack him. Barrett was back there so fast that all Newton could do was try to maintain possession of the ball as he fell backward to the turf. I can’t be sure of the routes the Panthers receivers were running on this play, but I can just about guarantee you none of them had time to get open. Barrett’s sack went in the books as a 7-yard loss and totally took the Panthers’ offense off schedule.

Barrett would add another sack on the very next play of that drive by beating Williams again, this time with a power rush, to force the Panthers into settling for a field goal.

Now let’s turn to the end of the game and one of the most clutch plays of the night.

Play No. 3: His most crucial moment saved the game

I know a lot of people have focused on the Panthers’ last play from scrimmage when trying to diagnose why they lost. They had a fourth-and-1 at the Bucs’ 2 with the game on the line and simply couldn’t convert. But more concerning was the fact they didn’t even try to use Newton’s running ability to pick up that important first down. That presents a lot of questions about how healthy Newton actually is and whether or not he rushed back too fast after shoulder surgery this offseason and a foot injury this preseason.

There is nothing wrong with examining what went wrong with the play and what it means for Carolina, because that was one of the biggest plays in the game, at home, against a division rival. However, a couple of plays before that failure on fourth down, Barrett made a play that might have actually saved the win for the Buccaneers.

On second-and-10 with the ball at the Tampa Bay 11-yard line and 1:42 left on the clock, the Panthers had the right play called to win the game. They lined Curtis Samuel up in the slot to the offense’s left side, with DJ Moore lined up outside of him. The Bucs decided to match up cornerback M.J. Stewart on Samuel and Vernon Hargreaves on Moore in press man at the line of scrimmage, with a single high safety in the middle of the field. Stewart was pretty much already beat before the ball was even snapped.

On the snap, Moore ran inside five yards, then started working back toward the sideline. His route was really only meant to pull Hargreaves up and out of the way, however, so the corner of the end zone would be free.

Samuel, on the other hand, ran what amounted to a 10-yard out, and with his speed and quickness he had about five yards on Stewart as soon as he came out of his break.


Even on a night where Newton was a little off on some of his throws, hitting a wide-ass open Samuel should’ve been relatively easy. Remember how I said after rewatching the game I realized Newton hadn’t thrown the ball nearly as bad as I thought he had? The guy actually had some dimes in that game. Go back and watch some of those completions. I’m reasonably sure that’s a touchdown if Newton has time. The extra point would’ve given Carolina a one-point lead with less than two minutes left in the game.

Emphasis on would’ve been.

The problem is it’s hard to make accurate throws with a 250-pound man draped over you, no matter how easy the pass should’ve been.

See, the Panthers still hadn’t learned their lesson about not sending help for Williams when he was matched up with Barrett on a drop back pass. On this play, Barrett came screaming off the ball at the snap and hit Williams with another cross chop, which was just as successful as before. Barrett followed through with a club with his outside (right) hand to Williams’ outside (left) shoulder, then he transitioned to another rip move. Once again, he flew under and by Williams so fast that Newton had no time to try to avoid the rush or set his feet and get off a good pass.

Buccaneers DE Shaquil Barrett hits Panthers QB Cam Newton

Instead, Newton’s body was turned around violently when Barrett barreled into him just as he was trying to deliver the ball. A 10-yard out from the slot is not a long throw at all, but the force of Barrett’s blow kept Newton from following through with his arm. The ball ended up nose-diving harmlessly at the goal line, a few yards short of the aforementioned wide open Samuel.

Barrett had a coming-out party under the bright lights of the Thursday Night Football broadcast. In addition to coming home with three sacks, he added three other pressures, another tackle, and forced a hold on Williams to boot. It wasn’t a one-man show, but Barrett was definitely the ringleader of the Bucs’ pass rush that night and helped to harass Newton into looking like a shell of himself. Those three sacks now give Barrett four for the season, which ties his second-highest sack output for a season in his career, and is just 1.5 sacks away from his career high of 5.5 back in 2015.

Those four sacks also put Barrett at second in the entire league for that category. He showed a wide array of moves on Thursday night as well, and it wasn’t just Williams he was beating all night long, either. I know it’s still early in the season, but after years of playing behind two of the greatest edge rushers the game has ever seen in Ware and Miller, Barrett looks ready to prove he is pretty damn good himself. He’s the real deal.

An honorable mention goes out to Myles Garrett, who had a helluva game on Monday Night Football with three sacks to take over the league lead in that category. However, he also was also facing the Jets’ second- and third-string quarterbacks, and he had a few too many penalties (although, I thought at least one of the roughing penalties was bullshit).

So with his efforts against the Panthers, Barrett both helped his team get a much-needed road victory in the division and also earned my Hoss of the Week honors for Week 2 of the 2019 NFL season.