How the Patriots pass rush can adjust with Christian Barmore on IR
November 18th, 2022
Heading into Week 11 of the NFL season, the Patriots’ defense has been one of the best in the league. They rank sixth in scoring, have held opponents to converting just 38.58 percent of their third downs, and have forced 17 turnovers – the third most turnovers of any team in football.
If the Patriots hope to continue the path they’re on and make a playoff push, it’s crucial the defense continues to play at or above that level. That already projects to be enough of a challenge given their upcoming schedule, but now they’ll have to approach those games without a key playmaker up front.
Friday evening, ESPN’s Field Yates reported the Patriots have placed defensive tackle Christian Barmore on IR with a knee injury. The team later announced rookie UDFA center Kody Russey has been signed to the active roster spot vacated by Barmore’s IR placement.
Barmore first suffered the injury during the team’s Week 6 win over the Cleveland Browns. The 23-year-old hadn’t played since the injury, although he had been participating in practices in a limited basis since Week 8.
Being placed on IR means Barmore will have to miss at least four games from this point, in addition to the three the injury has already cost him. The soonest he’d be eligible to return is the team’s Week 15 game against the Raiders. However, the exact nature of Barmore’s injury hasn’t been reported, so it’s possible his return to play timeline could extend beyond that.
Working off of what’s concrete to this point, the Patriots will now be without Barmore for games against the Jets, Vikings, Bills, and Cardinals. Those teams respectively rank 19th, eight, second, and 13th in the league in scoring. If Barmore misses additional time, the next two games after that are against the Raiders and Bengals who rank 14th and sixth respectively.
Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Christian Barmore (90) on the sidelines during the second half of a preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Not only do the majority of those offenses rank in the top half of the league, stylistically Barmore projected as a key matchup in just about each of them. Usually when talking about the presence or lack thereof in terms of a defensive tackle, it’s in the context of stopping the run. It’s not that Barmore is bad against the run, but with him on IR the Patriots are now down one of their top pass rushers. In six games Barmore had a pass rush win rate of 14.8 percent per PFF, which ranks 14th among NFL defensive linemen to this point.
For the first two games Barmore is out, the Patriots face two quarterbacks in Zach Wilson and Kirk Cousins who do not respond well to pressure. The difference in their numbers when pressured compared to when throwing from a clean pocket is more stark than most. Wilson ranks dead last among qualifying quarterback in completion percentage when under pressure this year, hitting just 21.2 percent of such throws. Cousins isn’t too far above him on the list, ranking 34th out of 39 passers with a 42.9 percent completion percentage in those situations.
Then there’s the Bills game. Josh Allen has been among the quarterbacks least bothered by pressure this year, but it’s the running element he brings that’s where the Patriots will miss Barmore the most. Barmore’s mix of size (6-foot-5, 310 pounds) and athleticism make him an ideal kind of defender to have on the field against Allen. Relative to his position, he’s quick enough to be a factor when Allen tries to scramble, and big/strong enough to competitively tackle the Bills’ 6-foot-5, 237 pound QB.
As for the Cardinals game, Kyler Murray fits into both categories (assuming he’s healthy – he missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury). Murray has completed just 41.7 percent of his passes against pressure this year, so getting after him and making him uncomfortable in the pocket will be a big key in that game. At the same time, he’s one of the quicker and more elusive quarterbacks in the league, so having an athlete like Barmore on the defensive line would be a big help.
Christian Barmore is a force of nature as a pass rusher.
Consistently put the pocket in Trubisky’s lap, showed great effort on his sack, and somehow reached the QB on a couple of quick passes.
Who will the Patriots’ turn to in Barmore’s absence, specifically when it comes to passing downs? Daniel Ekuale has seen an increased usage rate since Barmore got hurt a few weeks ago. The last two games have been his two most involved this season.
Like Barmore, Ekuale has the size to play along the interior at 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, but has an athletic edge in his toolbox. So far this season he’s recorded nine pressures in seven games, and had his two best games as a pass rusher in the two games leading up to the bye. That includes three pressures alone against the Jets in Week 8, when he played a pivotal role in the Patriots pass rush pestering Wilson.
The other player who could end up seeing more time is rookie sixth-round pick Sam Roberts. Roberts has only been active for four games this year, playing a total of 40 defensive snaps, He’s still raw technically, but did show some impressive flashes as a pass rusher this summer. The Northwest Missouri State product is another finesse rusher with a big frame at 6-foot-5, 295 pounds. When he has played this season he’s lined up all across the offensive line, from the ‘A’ gap to shading the outside shoulder of the tackle.
Over the last few weeks, the Patriots have been able to get by without Barmore on the field, but the situation felt temporary as he returned to practice and seemed to be making progress. Now for at least the next month and potentially longer, while facing tougher opponents, the Patriots will need to continue to flex their pass rush depth.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.