It would be hard to expect another league-leading, 19.5 sack season from Shaquil Barrett as he posted during his first year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019.
Still, Barrett was frustrated with himself for an eight-sack campaign during the regular season of Tampa Bay's 2020 Super Bowl run. He posted just three sacks in the Buccaneers' first eight games, before recording another five in the second half of the season and four in the postseason.
“I think early in the year he was frustrated because he wasn’t getting a lot of sacks, but you have to understand he was getting chipped," outside linebackers coach Larry Foote explained last week.
"We had a lot of max [protection] – two-man and three-man routes. He has to figure out ways to stay after it. Sometimes pass rushers they get frustrated when the running back is over there chipping them or coming through and they’re double teaming them."
Barrett was double-teamed at nearly a league-average rate among edge rushers through the first six games of the season, according to Seth Walder of ESPN Sports Analytics. That rate was cut significantly through the end of the regular season, although interestingly, Barrett's pass rush win rate (via ESPN) dipped slightly as the year went on.
We've provided the charts for each metric, through week six and the end of the season, for clarity as exact rates were not provided.
Pro Football Focus' record of quarterback pressures indicates that Barrett averaged 1.5 more pressures per game in the final 10 games of the season than in his first six. He posted five sacks in the latter stretch of matchups, or half a sack per game, much like his three sacks in the first six contests of the year. He went without a sack in two games before the midway point of the season before his production began to trend upwards.
Barrett's play clearly picked up as the year went on. His presence off the edge in the NFC Championship and Super Bowl, in which he recorded his four playoff sacks as well as 16 pressures, was instrumental in Tampa Bay winning a championship.
"He definitely played his better ball later in season and the playoffs than he did early," Foote said. "I’m quite sure the pandemic ... I would like to believe that might have played a part in it."
The loss of offseason activities last year amid the coronavirus pandemic can be considered a valid excuse, for Barrett and any player in football who got off to a slow start in 2020. It was an offseason unlike any other which prevented players from training at the team facility and meeting with coaches as they always had.
But when it mattered most, Barrett took his play to another level as the leading member of Tampa Bay's fearsome pass rush. The performance landed Barrett a four-year, $72 million contract extension this offseason, a year removed from playing on the franchise tag.
Now, Barrett will be expected to play like a top-tier edge rusher consistently.
"He’s making that big money now, so big money means big expectations," said Foote. "He better bring it.”