Shaq’s sacks sting in Broncos’ beat-down loss to Bucs

Shaq Barrett. Credit: USA TODAY Sports.
Aug 9, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) reacts on the sidelines against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 30-28. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos were beaten handily by Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday 28-10.

And while Brady has long been a nemesis of the Broncos, things were much different this time around.

That’s because Brady AND the Patriots were Denver’s nemesis for years, not just Brady himself. And Brady wasn’t even the focal point of the game, it was former Broncos star Shaquil Barrett.

Barrett sacked Broncos’ backup-turned-starting quarterback Jeff Driskel twice, including a sack-safety while bringing the pain all day long.

Barrett has long been the feel-good story. Before he was leading the NFL in sacks (19.5 in 2019), Shaq was an incredibly long shot to make the league.

A decade ago, Barrett was at the University of Nebraska-Omaha when the tiny school decided to shutter it’s football program in entirety. That’s how he found his way to Colorado State, about an hour north of Denver, where he had to work his way into production.

Barrett became a star for the small Mountain West school, leading the nation as a senior with 20.5 tackles for a loss and his 12 sacks on the season were fifth-most in the FBS.

But, Barrett was underrated coming out of Colorado State, he was an undrafted rookie for the Broncos and again had to work his way up, this time from the practice squad.

Once he finally got a start, three years into the league, Barrett racked up 5.5 sacks in replacement of an injured DeMarcus Ware. In fact, Shaq was a huge reason why the Broncos defense was the best in the NFL with 52 sacks in 2015 and won Super Bowl 50.

The next three years, Barrett was a valuable backup to Von Miller, Ware and Shane Ray, totaling 1.5, 3 and 4 sacks in those seasons.

But when his contract ran out, Barrett bet on himself, knowing the Broncos were going to be starting Miller and 2018 No. 5 overall pick Bradley Chubb. So, at the end of 2018, Barrett left for Tampa Bay.

The underdog of underdogs, the former undrafted free agent got paid decently, signing a one-year, $4 million contract.

That led to his superstar-worthy season in 2019, racking up an NFL-leading 19.5 sacks. All told, he had an incredible 37 QB hits last year, with six forced fumbles and one interception.

Simply, Shaq did it all.

That earned him $15.8 million this year, on only another one-year deal. Today, three games into the year, Barrett earned not only his first but also his second sacks of 2020, and he was instrumental in the Buccaneers domineering win over the Broncos in Denver.

Yes, Jeff Driskel is the Broncos backup quarterback. Yes, he’s not really fit to be a starter in this league. But, Driskel was rushed, hit and sacked relentlessly due to not only an aggressive defense by Tampa Bay, but because of inept offensive line play, too.

In all, the Bucs racked up six sacks on Driskel, which makes 12 sacks total on him in only two starts. Yes, some of those are him holding the ball too long — like the safety today — but most are on the offensive line.

Rookie center Lloyd Curshenberry allowed two sacks on the day and Noah Fant — after excelling in all aspects in the first two weeks — was pushed straight into Driskel for another sack.

The same offensive line is partially to blame for Drew Lock’s second injury in two seasons in the league. The group has been a constant revolving door of players for years, which has led to a lack of consistency and an overall ineptness in the trenches.

When the Broncos won the Super Bowl back in 2015, which is the last time they were in the playoffs, Denver won the trenches more often than not. On both sides of the ball.

Since then, we’ve seen the defense win the line of scrimmage, sometimes for entire games, while the offense is consistently getting whipped.

While all the fame is found in the skill positions, football is still won and lost along the line of scrimmage. Today, the Broncos fell to 0-3 on the season, giving up 13 sacks in those three games. And until they can figure out the offensive line, their flashy receivers can’t catch the ball and their “quarterback of the future” in Lock can’t safely play.

On the other side of the ball, Miller is out for the season while Chubb has yet to record a sack this season. Clearly, the Broncos could’ve used Barrett today; John Elway and the front office have to be kicking themselves for letting him walk in 2018.