Antwan Barnes: The Missing Ingredient to the Pass Rush

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Antwan Barnes’ 2013 season ended after five games. He was injured on the Monday Night Football game against the Atlanta Falcons. Barnes was rushing the quarterback and his right knee buckled. Henceforth, he was put on injury reserve for rest of the season.

Barnes is a pass-rush specialist and played 41% of the snaps. He was a great help in chasing the quarterback, recording two sacks in just five games. His pressure also forced the quarterback to hurry.

During his five games, the Jets were 3-2.

Barnes is well-traveled in the NFL, first drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. They selected him in the fourth round in 2007. Ironically, Rex Ryan was his defensive coordinator at that time, though he was traded to Philadelphia Eagles afterwards. It didn’t work out there.

Barnes Career took off when he signed with the San Diego Chargers in 2010. The Chargers used no exotic blitzes in his first game with the them, but he managed to record two sacks in just a straight-up four-man rush.

Barnes’ production increased and he had good season. According to Pro Football Focus, Barnes logged 27 total pressures (18 hurries, five hits, four sacks) on 155 pass-rush attempts in the final 11 games of the 2010 season at defensive end.

His numbers were even better in 2011, when he ranked second in pass-rushing productivity among 3-4 outside linebackers, behind only San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith.

Let’s look at Barnes production from 2010-2012. Pro Football Focus put a statistic together that shows his production,

Year 2010: Pass rushes 199, hurries 23, hits 5, sacks 4, total pressures 32, and Pressure % 16.1.

Year 2011: Pass rushes 273, hurries 29, hits 5, sacks 11, total pressures 45, and Pressure % 16.5

Year 2012: Pass rushes 140, hurries 11, hits 3, sacks 3, total pressures 17, and Pressure % 12.1.

The effect he had on the Jets defense:

Week One; Jets 18, Buccaneers 17

The pass-rush specialist was in the building and helped bring a powerful rush to the defense. The Jets defense was missing this for a while before that. Barnes has a fast first step, and he was crossing the line of scrimmage before the offense could react. He had a sack in his debut .

Barnes and Mo Wilkerson were often chasing down Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman. The pressure forced Freeman to step up in the pocket, and the defense line benefited from this, especially Richardson and Wilkerson.

Week 2; Patriots 13, Jets 10

The Jets struggled getting to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, mostly because the Patriots were able to block Barnes. If the Patriots’ game plan was block the edge, it worked with their use of tight ends and running backs. The Patriots also benefited with Quinton Coples out due to injury for the Jets.

The key to the pass rush is to have Coples and Barnes rush the edge to push the pocket to the strength of the defense. For New York, that’s the defensive line.

Week 3; Jets 27, Bills 20

Barnes made an impact in the fourth quarter, drawing a penalty and delivering a big hit on Buffalo quarterback E.J. Manuel. He showed his speed on the edge.

Stats don’t do Barnes justice here. He forces the quarterback to move up in the pocket and gives his fellow defensive linemen sacks. His acceleration was excellent in this game.

What can Barnes do in 2014:

It seems so much talk is focused on the Jets lacking an elite cornerback. My opinion is that having an elite cornerback is a luxury. I believe you can win without elite corners, and that, rather, you win with all 11 players.

I like to look at the defense as three levels. The first level is the defensive line, the second level is the linebackers, and third level is the secondary.

The first level has win the battle in the trenches, and the Jets have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.

The second level is always going to be very important. Rushing Coples and Barnes on the edge will create the quarterback to move to the defense line. While this is happening, this helps the secondary out by not giving the quarterback the ability to fully view the field.

The third level benefits from poor passes created by a strong pass rush.

In the past, the Jets had elite corners but lacked that pass rushing linebacker to rush the edge. If they had that player, the defense would have been that much better.

So in closing, I say not to worry about the corners so much. There are young players who can get the job done, usually if the front seven gets a pass rush. I think the focus should be in grooming another pass rushing linebacker via the draft. At this point, Coples, Barnes, Pace, and another formidable player from a draft pick should be the ingredients the Jets defense needs to reach their full potential.

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