The Other Most Important Player

May 28th, 2022

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He just might be the most important Buccaneer this side of Tom Brady.

The Bucs rely heavily on Shaq Barrett when it comes to hunting quarterbacks and the former Bronco has responded very well, coming off that left edge lean and mean. With Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul remaining in the free-agent market, Barrett’s prodigious pass-rush skills take on even more importance.

Bucs sacks king Shaq Barrett has Ira Kaufman’s attention.

Opponents throw the ball a ton against Tampa Bay, primarily because they can’t run against Todd Bowles’ crew. Every team talks about stopping the run and making offenses one-dimensional … the Bucs continue to back up all the chatter.

The Buc defended against an NFL-high 680 passes last season while facing an NFL-low 366 rushing attempts. Add in the 47 sacks posted by the Bucs and opponents tried to throw the football on 67 percent of their snaps.

By the numbers — and despite all the injuries at cornerback – the Buc pass defense fared very well.

Eleven teams allowed more passing yards and 17 clubs yielded more TD passes. In the key metric of average yards per pass attempt, only Buffalo was more stingy. Opponents averaged a mere 9.8 yards per catch, second lowest to Philadelphia.

The catalyst for Tampa Bay’s solid pass defense was the pressure generated by the front seven. Only six teams registered more sacks.

Only Miami posted more QB hits. The Bucs led the league in hurries, knockdowns and pressures.

But without Suh, those numbers will be difficult to repeat unless Barrett enjoys a healthy and disruptive year. His 10 sacks paced Tampa Bay in 2021 as Suh ranked second with six takedowns.

Suh was also third in QB hits. In the divisional-round playoff loss to the Rams, Suh accounted for half of Tampa Bay’s eight hits against Matt Stafford, who was sacked only twice in 40 dropbacks.

Pressure is Barrett’s calling card and now the pressure is on him as the Bucs prepare to face some of the NFL’s elite passers.

If Stafford, Dak Prescott, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray have time to run through their progressions from the safety of the pocket, this defense will struggle.

Todd Bowles knows the Bucs were undefeated when Shaq got a sack.

Last season, the Bucs were 8-0 when Barrett’s name was on the sack list and 5-4 when he was blanked. Facing the Eagles and Rams in the postseason, Barrett had zero sacks and zero hits, although he turned in a majestic interception against Philadelphia that Mike Evans termed, “The play of the year.”

Even with Suh and Pierre-Paul, the Bucs led all teams by blitzing on 41 percent of their defensive snaps. Although inside linebacker Devin White topped all players by blitzing 133 times, he finished with only 3 1/2 sacks, a huge dropoff from his 9-sack season in 2020.

The Bucs are hoping Joe Tryon-Shoyinka takes a step up in Year 2. They are hoping top draft choice Logan Hall can generate some push up front.

Most of all, they are hoping Barrett avoids injury.

Former Buc coach Leeman Bennett loved to say that pass defense is comprised of “rush, plus coverage.” In today’s NFL, those two elements should no longer be on equal footing. Wide receivers are so gifted and the rules are so tilted that cornerbacks and safeties have an impossible job if quarterbacks aren’t pressured.

That’s why Bowles blitzes so extensively. He’s not about to leave Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean out on an island to fend for themselves.

It all starts with pressure. It all starts with Shaq Barrett.

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Enjoy today’s Ira Kaufman Podcast!

10 Responses to “The Other Most Important Player”

  1. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Need the “Shaqattack” to log 34 sacks this year… average of 2 per game……

    And we need more success from our blitzes or less blitzes….

  2. GOB Says:

    TBBF, less blitzing, especially against offenses and QBs who destroy the blitz. Namely Matt Stafford

  3. Bucaroo Says:

    The Bucs are also undefeated when Mike Edwards gets an interception, so I hope that he steps up this year.

  4. Buczilla Says:

    I’ll be hoping for a miracle that our corners can stay healthy and consistent this year.

  5. Goatfarmer Says:


    (I’m with you #8)

  6. Thadeus Says:

    I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. The Rams and Bengals were flukes. Neither will be in the SB this season. It will be the Bucs and Buffalo, with Brady winning # 8.

  7. Goatfarmer Says:

    Thadeus, I hope you are the prophet.

  8. Defense Rules Says:

    Ira … ‘It all starts with pressure. It all starts with Shaq Barrett’.

    Great article Sage, but I can’t see it all starting with Shaq. I wish there was a way to break down WHO was on the field every time Shaq got a sack. He’s the hunter, but he needs the dogs to flush out his targets. And those dogs were Vea & Suh on the interior I’d surmise, and to a lesser degree Gholston, RNR & McLendon (only because they had fewer snaps). And having a quality DE/OLB opposite him (JPP) drawing attention also helped (probably more in 2019 & 2020 than in 2021).

    Shaq also benefitted from the excessive blitzing that White (133) and LVD (41) did last season (personal opinion obviously). I suspect though that Bowles was having them blitz so much because we weren’t getting sufficient pressure any other way.

    White got 20 total QB pressures in 91 blitzes in 2020 (22.0% success?), with 9 of those pressures being sacks. Last season he actually did a little BETTER although the sacks were way down (31 total QB pressures in 133 blitzes (23.3% success?), with 3.5 of those pressures being sacks. Turns out he got a lot more hurries last year (15 vs 3), but didn’t quite get there. QBs figured out they needed a faster release?

    LVD on the other hand was a LOT less effective when blitzing. LVD got 3 total QB pressures in 65 blitzes in 2020 (4.6% success?), with only 1.5 sacks. He did somewhat better in 2021; 5 total QB pressures in 41 blitzes (12.2% success?), with 2 of those pressures being sacks. Maybe that’s why he had so few blitzes compared to White each year.

  9. Darin Says:

    He’s paid like the second most important player. Glad he got rid of the Devin white attitude and is ready to help the team win this season. Earn it

  10. 1#bucsfan Says:

    Great article. A QB can’t throw if he’s constantly on his arse or running for his life mahomie lol. 1 thing I will say is that D.white whiffed on prob 4 or 5 sacks. If he didn’t then his sack total would have bin around 7 to 8 1/2 sacks last year which would have bin real close to his 2020 season. I know he said he’s bin working harder so hopefully we see Dwhite elevate his game n can help Shaq n the rest of the defense out. I hope he works on is pass coverage but shoot if he can come out with close to 10 sacks find someone else who can cover n have white play close to the line. I’m hoping for a big year from Dwhite