Trench trends: Inside Barrett's breakout, no-sack Denver and a porous Carolina line

BySeth Walder via ESPN logo
Wednesday, September 25, 2019

We all know Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson and Keenan Allen are flying out of the gate. But what about the guys in the trenches?

Thanks to new statistical tools such aspass rush win rate (PRWR) and pass block win rate (PBWR), we can get a sense of who is performing -- and who isn't -- in pass-rush and pass protection thus far this season.

As a quick reminder: PRWR is the rate at which a defender beats his blocker within 2.5 seconds of the snap, and PBWR is the rate at which an offensive lineman sustains his block for 2.5 seconds. Both stats, along with related metrics such as double-team rate and sacks created, are powered by NFL Next Gen Stats.

From a pair of rookies bursting on the scene to a porous line in Carolina, here are eight notable trends along the line of scrimmage.

Shaquil Barrett's sixth-year breakout

We don't need advanced stats to spot this one. Barrett has eight sacks in his first three games. But our numbers also support the case that Barrett's sudden production is legit. He's getting pressure on more than just his sack plays, as he has generated a 33% pass rush win rate as an edge rusher, second only to that ofKhalil Mack.

It isn't like he's cleaning up other defenders' sacks, either. Barrett was the first Buccaneer to beat his blocker on seven of his eight sacks (what we call a sack created, regardless of who finishes the play). His seven sacks created lead the league, and Mack is one behind at six.

Here's Barrett running around Daryl Williams for a sack against Carolina in Week 2, with NFL Next Gen Stats animation:

Barrett played in 32% of Denver's defensive snaps the past two seasons, but he is on his way to a huge breakout season with Tampa Bay.

Trent Brown paying off in Oakland

I was somewhat skeptical of paying Brown after his breakout campaign in New England. He wasn't that good, according to pass block win rate, and Nate Solder was coming off a dreadful first season away from the gaze of famed offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. But thus far, Brown leads all qualified offensive tackles with a PBWR of 98%.

Overall, Oakland has made an incredible leap from No. 31 to No. 5 in PBWR. Thus far, it hasn't translated into better production for quarterback Derek Carr: His Total QBR of 46.5 is 19th in the NFL.

Rookies Ed Oliver, Brian Burns off to hot starts

Oliver was a highly touted prospect despite having just three sacks last season in Houston, and he has yet to record one in Buffalo this season. But make no mistake, the No. 9 overall pick has caused plenty of disruption. Oliver has a PRWR as a defensive tackle of 22%, which ranks fourth behind the marks ofGrady Jarrett, Aaron Donald and Calais Campbell. That's some pretty fine company.

Burns, meanwhile, has taken the mantle of best Panthers pass-rusher so far by posting a 29% PRWR as an edge rusher, fourth-best in the league. The Panthers were 27th in the NFL in sacks last season with 35, but they already have a third of that total (12) and are tied for second in the league.

No sacks for Broncos is no fluke

No team has gone three straight regular-season games without a sack or takeaway since it became an official statistic in 1982, per Pro Football Reference. This is an outlier, but the underlying numbers suggest that there is a pass-rush problem in Denver. Despite having Von Miller and Bradley Chubb on the roster, not to mention defensive guru Vic Fangio as the head coach, the Broncos have the worst PRWR in the league. And Denver has blitzed at the 10th-highest rate in the league.

The biggest culprit appears to be Chubb, who has dropped from around a league-average PRWR edge rusher last season (16%) to well below average (8%) so far this season. Miller, meanwhile, has been just about average this season (17% PRWR), which means we could be witnessing the beginning of his decline.

Some hope for Denver? Thus far, the Broncos have played the Raiders, Bears and Packers -- all good pass-blocking teams. Two of Miller's three most faced offensive linemen have been Bryan Bulaga and Trent Brown.

Aaron Donald, DeMarcus Lawrence facing even more double-teams

Donald has drawn a double-team on 72% of his pass rushes as a defensive tackle this season, up from 64% a year ago. That trails only that of Giants DT Dalvin Tomlinson so far this season. But Tomlinson plays mostly one-technique, in which any player is more likely be doubled than a three-technique such as Donald.

What happens when you don't double-team Donald? His PRWR against single-teams is 73%. That's not a typo. Remember, his overall PRWR as a tackle is 27%, and that's excellent. League average for a DT in 2019 is 10%.

Off the edge, Lawrence has been double-teamed 35% of the time, more than any other edge rusher. It hasn't stopped the Cowboys from getting pressure -- they hold the second-highest PRWR of any team -- but every team that has played the Dolphins likely has slightly inflated numbers.

Pass protection isn't the problem in Cleveland

The Browns rank third in pass block win rate so far this season, yet Baker Mayfield has been under pressure fourth-most of any passer. How can those two stats coexist? Mayfield has also held the ball for an average of 3.03 seconds before throwing, third-longest in the league.

At a certain point, every offensive line will be beaten, and it's the quarterback's job to get a rid of the ball before that happens. Mayfield is failing on that count.

Here's an example, shown by an animation from NFL Next Gen Stats, of the Browns' offensive line doing a good job of picking up a blitz, but Mayfield still ends up taking a sack:

Trey Flowers' pass-rush lacking in Detroit

PRWR was not a fan of Flowers last season in New England, and it isn't buying him in Detroit this season. His PRWR is a very unimpressive 10%, tied for eighth-worst among qualifying edge rushers.

However, it might be more complicated than that. Flowers is being double-teamed 26% of the time, 11th-most among edge rushers, and is on the team that has blitzed the least in the NFL. His low PRWR might be partially a function of both those factors, rather than just a subpar performance on his part.

The Panthers can't protect their quarterback

Matt Paradis' success in Denver has not translated to success in Carolina, as he has put up a PBWR of just 80%, well below the average for centers of 91%. But the biggest disappointment on this Carolina line has been Daryl Williams, who is back after missing most of last season with a knee injury. He was rocked by Barrett when the Panthers faced the Buccaneers, but really, he has been bad overall, with a PBWR of 76%.

Even Trai Turner and Taylor Moton -- both PBWR stars in 2018 -- haven't been excellent. Overall, no team has been worse in PBWR than Carolina (32.5%).

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