Revenge is a dish best served hot. There was nothing hotter than a 37-9 win over bitter rivals to all but seal the NFC East title. The Eagles defense ran rampant against the Dallas Cowboys, but there was one player in particular who stole the spotlight. That man was 21-year old first round pick, Derek Barnett.
The Tennessee product led the Eagles with a career-high-tying 2.0 sacks, becoming the first Eagles rookie to have two multi-sack games since Trent Cole in 2005. Barnett now has 4.5 sacks (all of which have been recorded in the last 5 games), which are the most by an Eagles rookie since Fletcher Cox (5.5) in 2012. As the season goes on, Barnett is only getting stronger…but his impact goes way beyond the stat sheet.
It didn’t take long for Barnett to make an impact on Sunday night. On the play below in the first quarter, Barnett blows past Jason Witten with ease, throwing him to one side before assertively collapsing the pocket and forcing Dak Prescott to get the ball out quick. The pass fell incomplete, but Barnett’s legs never stopped churning. He never slowed down as he wrestled his way into the pocket…and that in itself was a sign of things to come.
A little later, Barnett was a crucial cog in the first interception of the night. It may have been a tipped pass, but the Eagles have the thunderous Derek Barnett to thank for the hurried release. The pass rusher bellows around the outside, taking a wider stance and minimizing contact before honing in on Prescott and making him feel the heat.
That wasn’t the only interception Barnett was a part of that game. On the play below, both defensive ends stunt before swarming the quarterback. Barnett keeps an eye on Rod Smith out of the backfield, before taking advantage of a couple team to burst outside and hit Dak Prescott as he throws, forcing a pass that would end up safely in the hands of none other than the returning Ronald Darby.
What really shined in Barnett’s game however was play recognition. The Cowboys run plenty of play action looks and it didn’t take long for Barnett to pickup the bootleg. Below, Barnett keeps his eyes on the ball and refuses to be fooled by the fake hand off, flying into the eyes of Prescott and clinging onto him for dear life as one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the game tried to escape. A superman tackle eventually brought him to the ground, but it was Barnett’s football IQ and reaction time that glows here.
His final big moment would be the cherry on the cake. Barnett uses his hands to completely disengage his block and bend around the outside of a wavering Alfred Morris. With his outside hand free, he wraps it around the back of Dak Prescott to swat the ball away and force a fumble. That fumble would be picked up by Nigel Bradham and returned for a touchdown.
The big plays stand out, but they don’t happen overnight. Barnett does all the little things right…and the one thing that has been consistent from the beginning of the year has been his unrelenting motor. Barnett moves inside after seeing Witten motion to the other side of the line. Preparing for a run to the right end, Barnett pushes past his block by forcing himself outside and swimming against the current. This enables him to clear an open path to Morris, who was waiting for the hole that never came. Barnett’s small adjustment here and motor to chase all the way to the running back helped secure the tackle and allow a minimal gain.
Finally, an example of Barnett’s engine that never quite runs out of gas. The rookie gets thrown off his block but uses his phenomenal flexion to keep upright and immediately turns to track down the ball carrier and help bring him to the ground.
It’s scary to think that Barnett is just 21 years of age…and even scarier to think that this was just his tenth NFL game. The ceiling is so incredibly high for a defensive end with a development trait that is just spiking each and every week. The Eagles may just have one of the league’s best upcoming pass rushers on their hands…and one who would not be out of place being named In the same vein as Joey Bosa.
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports