FOXBORO, Mass. — Many expected Christian Barmore to take another developmental leap in his second season with the Patriots. After performing uncommonly well as a rookie defensive tackle in 2021, Barmore carried future Pro Bowler buzz into training camp.
And you could argue he was New England’s best player throughout the summer, especially during practices. But through three regular season games, the uber-confident Barmore hasn’t provided the impact that fans were hoping for. The 2021 second-round pick enters Week 4 with only seven quarterback pressures (four hurries, one sack) after amassing 48 in his rookie campaign, per Pro Football Focus. He also is seeing roughly the same amount of playing time as a sub-rusher, including a limited role in run defense.
So, what’s going on?
First of all, Barmore isn’t playing poorly — quite the opposite, in fact. He currently owns PFF’s 25th-best pass-rushing grade among interior D-tackles after finishing 24th last season, and his run defense grade is about the same as last season’s. So, from a statistical standpoint, Barmore more or less has picked up where left off in 2021, which is to say he still is a really good, promising player.
But that’s part of the problem. Barmore is one of the few elite talents on the Patriots defense, and other teams know it.
Opposing offenses caught on after a while last season. Teams essentially double-teamed Barmore, chipped Matthew Judon and dared New England to find pressure elsewhere. It proved to be a winning strategy.
Barmore finished the season with one of the highest double-team rates among defensive tackles, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
And it’s been more of the same in 2022. Thankfully for the Patriots, Deatrich Wise has picked up some of the slack, registering four sacks (his career high is five) through three weeks. If that dries up, New England’s defense could be in a lot of trouble, given Josh Uche’s and Anfernee Jennings’ continued inability to emerge as pass-rushing threats.
As for Barmore, he’s been double-teamed at an even higher rate than he was last season.
The stats and eye test all point toward Barmore seeing a ton of extra attention from Patriots opponents. But does he agree?
“Yeah, feels like it,” he told NESN.com on Wednesday. “I feel like I’m getting double-teams. But gotta fight through it, gotta play through it. Just gotta win doubles.”
None of this should come as a surprise, and Barmore himself was told by teammates to expect a lot of double-teams this season. That said, the second-year pro sees it as a compliment.
“People (told) me,” he said. “But I thought, my second year, you know, I still got stuff to prove. But, yeah, people tell me it’s gonna happen. They say it happens to good players. So, it means that’s just a sign of respect, other people say.”
During training camp, Barmore cited Kansas City Chiefs tackle Chris Jones as a player whom he studies and models his game after. Like the 6-foot-4 Barmore, Jones is tall (6-foot-6) and has long arms, requiring him to develop certain moves that more undersized tackles, like 6-foot-1 Aaron Donald, might not have to think about.
When it comes to figuring out ways to beat double-teams, Barmore watches film of Jones and similar players, including three who are featured in the graphics shared above.
“I study him. I study DeForest Buckner (Indianapolis Colts),” Barmore said. “Cam Heyward (Pittsburgh Steelers). Even a guy we’re bout to play, Kenny Clark (Green Bay Packers). You know, guys in the trenches that really (get double-teamed) and can take over the game. So, I (watch) guys like them and see how they do.”
Barmore’s job might get even tougher in the weeks ahead. Rock-solid tackle Lawrence Guy missed Wednesday’s practice with a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 3, and his status for this Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field remains unclear. Guy has started all but two games in which he’s played since joining the Patriots in 2017 and also sees a lot of time on special teams. If Guy can’t play, Barmore could be thrust into a three-down role, with depth tackle Daniel Ekuale receiving increased usage.
“Of course we need him,” Barmore said of Guy. “He’s one of our best guys. But we gonna be all right.”
With New England still struggling on offense and quarterback Mac Jones potentially facing a multiple-game absence, the Patriots need their defense to carry the load and stifle opposing offenses. It’s going to be hard for the group to do that consistently if Barmore isn’t wreaking havoc.
Barmore is capable of dominating on a weekly basis. The Patriots must find a way to put him in a position to do so.