Carolina Panthers

Shaq Barrett, the NFL’s sack leader, wrecked the Panthers in Week 2. Will he again?

Tampa Bay linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) had three sacks in the Bucaneers’ Week 2 win over the Panthers.
Tampa Bay linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) had three sacks in the Bucaneers’ Week 2 win over the Panthers. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Points for the honesty, Greg Van Roten.

Asked about how to best stop Tampa Bay defensive end Shaquil Barrett this Sunday in London — after he terrorized the Panthers and sacked Cam Newton three times in Week 2 — Van Roten didn’t muzzle himself.

“I don’t think we gave him the respect he deserved that first game,” Van Roten said this week. “He’s not an unknown commodity; he just didn’t have a lot of reps. You can see in the NFL, just because you don’t play a lot doesn’t mean you’re not good.

“He’s a guy that we’re definitely going to pay more attention to.”

He should be. Barrett is the NFL’s sacks leader with nine already this season in just five games. That puts him on pace for more than 28 by year’s end, which would easily shatter Michael Strahan’s record of 22.5 from 2001.

With three of those coming against the Panthers, that leads to another question:

Will he have a repeat performance this Sunday?

To determine that, it makes sense to go back to the tape and determine how Barrett was able to have the success he did the first times these teams met. Considering the former undrafted backer had just 14 career sacks in five seasons with the Broncos (he was with Denver for their Super Bowl 50 win over the Panthers) his breakout has been something of a league-wide surprise this year.

Part of it stems from being in a different system than the one he played in in Denver, coach Ron Rivera said this week. Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator Todd Bowles prefers an attacking scheme, and Barrett has been the beneficiary.

“It’s a style of what they do ... Some guys take to certain systems a lot better,” Rivera said. “This is a very aggressive scheme that they have. It’s not like they sit back and wait. You have guys that you tell to go forward; it’s a lot different than having to sit there and read and react to things.”

Part of that aggressiveness means lining Barrett up all over the field, similar to how the Panthers do with Mario Addison, their best pass-rusher. Addison is liable to line up at either left or right defensive end, but the team has shifted him into the interior at times this season to disguise pressure and create mismatches; Bowles uses Barrett the same way.

“Not knowing where he’s going to be all the time helps, because you talk about putting a tight end (on him) or chipping, but you never know where he’s going to be,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said. “That part is hard offensively to account for.”

But there’s also something to be said for Barrett’s individual success.

He spent years learning behind some of the NFL’s best pass rushers in Denver: Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and even Bradley Chubb. That helped expand his arsenal, which was on display in Tampa’s 20-14 win in Week 2.

CLT_PANTHERS_BUCS_26.JPG
Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett (left) enters Week 6 not just as the NFL’s sack leader, but on pace for a historic total. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Barrett’s three sacks that game came via different technical moves, according to The Washington Post. They also came against then-left tackle Daryl Williams, who since has shifted to right guard to replace injured guard Trai Turner.

He was a one-man wrecking crew back at Bank of America Stadium in September. His first sack stymied a promising Panthers drive, and his last two pushed Carolina from the edge of the red zone (Tampa Bay’s 21-yard line) to almost out of field-goal range.

That doesn’t even factor in his fourth-quarter pressure on Cam Newton on fourth-and-1 that forced an overthrown incompletion to Curtis Samuel.

“He’s a guy that has great power and he has great quickness. So you can take one thing away, then he has the other thing to beat you with,” Van Roten said. “You have to win every time with your set. And if you’re inconsistent or you’re late off the ball, it’s gonna be tough.”

As for what the Panthers can do to mitigate Barrett’s impact? Giving whoever plays left tackle this week — rookie tackle Greg Little is out with a concussion and fellow rookie Dennis Daley is questionable with a groin injury, although he’s expected to be available — some assistance is a good start. That could mean sliding an extra tight end to wherever Barrett lines up, or keeping a running back or tight end in the backfield to pick him up.

There’s also the obvious change at quarterback. Newton was essentially a stationary target the first two weeks of the season, given the injury to his left foot. With backup Kyle Allen at quarterback, there should be a little more mobility in the pocket to evade Barrett.

He also is coming off his first game without a sack season last week against New Orleans.

It’s clear Barrett possesses the potential to sabotage the Panthers’ offensive gameplan. The key is making in-game adjustments to cut him off from becoming a menace.

That’s true even coming from a defensive lineman like Gerald McCoy, who can appreciate Barrett’s success — from a distance.

“Every year there’s that one team and there’s those few players on defense and offense that have just phenomenal seasons,” McCoy said. “You’re like, ‘Frick, where’d that come from?’ This year it’s Shaq ... For him to have the success he’s having is really exciting to see.

“(But) not on Sunday. Really don’t care what he does on Sunday. Don’t do anything, none of that you did last game. But after that, get back to it.”

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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