Barrett needs a strong finish for Bucs

by Gary Shelton on December 12, 2020

in general

Barrett is far behind last year's total/TIM WIRT

Saturday, 4 a.m.

For a year, he was a star. He was relentless, and he was fast, and he toyed with offensive tackles.

For a year, no one could stop Shaq Barrett, the breakout star of last season's Tampa Bay Bucs.

He had 19.5 sacks, the most in the league, the most ever by a Buccaneer. He made the Pro Bowl. He earned a franchise tag.

This year?

Not so much.

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Look, Barrett has played hard, and he's been close. But it's a bottom-line business, and the truth is, Barrett hadn't been the finisher this year that he was last. After 12 games in 2019, he had 14.5 sacks; this year, he has six. And his danger is missing from the defense.

"We’ve got to stop the run and then turn Shaq, JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) and the rest of the guys loose and get after the quarterback," said Bucs' coach Bruce Arians. "Not only that, but handle the bootlegs and all the things that come with their running game.”

Arians said that Barrett had gotten much more attention this season than last.

“A lot more – there’s a lot more chipping and a lot more tight ends to his side," Arians said. "He’s now a known commodity, so when you’re game planning, you need to know where he’s at.”

Against the Vikings, a pass rush will be vital. Quarterback Kirk Cousins and receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen can cause damage without it.

So far this year, the Vikings are in the middle of the pack (16th) in sacks allowed.

“It’s a hot team right now," said Arians of the Vikings, who have won five of their last six games. "We have to be extremely ready, prepared and ready to go because they’re going to give it everything they’ve got. Kirk [Cousins] has been playing really, really well for them. Like most teams, that’s really [where] it starts and ends. Defensively they’ve been playing really well, especially in situational football. So yeah, it’s a huge challenge.”

The game is a big one for the Bucs, who are trying to make their first playoffs since 2007. After Minnesota, the Bucs have two games against the re-energized Falcons and one against Detroit.

“For me personally, being here in my sixth year [and] never making it to the playoffs – you have some guys like Lavonte [David] who has been here for nine years. It’s special," tackle Donovan Smith said. "We have a lot to go after. Being where we’re at now, we just have to focus, play Bucs football, penalty-free football, physical football and go out there and execute one game at a time [and] one opponent at a time. Really, just go from there. Controlling our own destiny – there’s nothing better than that. Everything is on your back, it’s on you and your guys and we go forward from there. I’ve got all the faith in everybody in this building and this locker room to go out there and make it happen. It’s what we’re going to go out there and do.”

Match-up wise, the Vikings can put some pressure on the Bucs. Look for a close game, maybe one the Bucs win at the end.

Prediction: Tampa Bay 27, Minnesota 24.

In other NFL games:

Kansas City 31, Miami 16.

Green Bay 28, Detroit 17.

Pittsburgh 24, Buffalo 21.

College football

Florida 36, LSU 21.

FSU 17, Duke 10.

Alabama 47, Arkansas 14.

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