The inevitable has started to happen. After having 9.0 sacks through the first four games of the season, outside linebacker Shaq Barrett has been held without one in the past two contests. He's still tied for the league lead, though, even with the Bucs' bye week last week. That should give you some idea how incredible his initial feat of 9.0 sacks in four games really was.
But now that teams have started planning for him, he's predictably slowed his production. Teams are still obviously accounting for him and doubling him more often than not. That's opened up opportunities for guys like Carl Nassib, who got his second sack of the season last game, along with Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea, who split a sack in the same matchup. Basically, the roles have reversed a bit. Instead of Suh/Vea taking up double-teams, allowing Barrett favorable one-on-one matchups, Barrett is now the one commanding two blockers, leaving Vea and Suh now with the advantageous one-on-one situations.
"Yeah – he's in the big leagues now," Head Coach Bruce Arians said of Barrett. "Everybody knows who he is and where he's at."
Teams may not have an answer for much longer, though. A return for the Bucs' leading pass rusher from last season is looming. Whether outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul returns against the Titans or later remains to be seen, but should opposing offensive lines see him opposite Barrett – and with Suh and Vea in the middle – they're going to have some extremely tough decisions to make.
"It will help a bunch if we can get it done," Arians said of JPP's potential return.
Pierre-Paul was placed in the 21-day practice window coming off the non-football injury list last week and as a result, the team has until Nov. 6 to activate him on the 53-man roster. The Bucs' roster currently stands at 52 and JPP has practiced every day this week. Because he's not technically on the roster yet, he doesn't appear on the team's injury report and therefore, how fully he's practicing isn't official. But Arians shed some light on that after Pierre-Paul's first practice with the team on Tuesday. When asked how much JPP was able to do in practice, Arians responded, "Everything."
If that's any indication, it means the Bucs should soon see number 90 on the field relatively soon. But what implications does that have on the rest of the front seven? Outside linebacker Carl Nassib, who is currently lining up opposite Barrett in base formations, feasibly gets bumped a little bit. But with how many different looks Todd Bowles' defense gives you, Nassib isn't far out of the equation.
"That's the beauty of Carl – he's very position-flexible," Arians said. "He can play inside [or] outside, as JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) can, and we've played Shaq [Barrett] off the ball some, so it's fun toys to play with when you start rushing the passer and you have that many guys."
The Bucs currently rank 22nd in sacks this year, registering 13.0 in six games. Most of the league has played seven games, so that number is a little skewed. They'll be looking to take advantage of a Titans offense that has let up the most sacks in the league with 31.0 on Sunday. Whether or not that includes JPP will be determined soon.