It has been well documented that Connor Barwin's sack totals dropped off between 2011 and 2012. Many have speculated as to why this might be, but I thought I'd have a look at some tape and see if I could draw some conclusions of my own. Reading JimmyK's article showing all of Barwin's sacks in 2011, one thing that became clear was he had a lot of success stunting inside behind DT Antonio Smith. I wondered whether the Texans stopped asking him to do that in 2012 or whether there was some other reason for his drop in production.
This evening I went back and watched every sack that the Texans made in 2012 and I've put together a few pictures to show what I feel was sheer bad luck on Connor's part last season.
For those of you that don't feel like reading/looking at pictures, the TL;DR version is that the Texans pass rush was very good last year and there are only so many sacks to go around. If JJ Watt wasn't getting to the QB quicker than everyone else, Barwin might've had a more respectable total last year.
This first play was in week 2 against Jacksonville. Barwin's to the left of the shot, lined up in a track stance.
At the snap, he slants hard inside, occupying both the LT and the LG.
This allows Smith to get around the edge for the sack.
This next play comes from week 5 against the Jets. Once again, Barwin is to the left of the screen with his hand on the ground.
This time he stunts behind Smith to take on the guard and the center.
This movement allows Bradie James a free run at Sanchez to get the sack
In this play from the same game, Connor doesn't do much to influence the sack itself, but he does a good job of getting his hands into the passing lanes in case Sanchez tries to throw (right side of the picture):
And when the fumble is recovered by one of the Jets, he hustles to the opposite side of the field and trips the ballcarrier around the original line of scrimmage:
On this next play against Detroit, Barwin easily beats the LT and should get the sack:
But Stafford dodges his outstretched arm and instead runs straight into JJ Watt
To finish, three plays against Tennessee in week 13.
Barwin goes with the speed rush off of the edge and easily beats the RT
He's got Locker in his crosshairs, but unfortunately so does Antonio Smith and Barwin is a fraction of a second too late.
On this next play, the RT has learned his lesson. He's ready for Barwin's outside rush.
So Connor hits him with a spin to the inside and once again he's ready to bring down the QB.
Unfortunately, this time it's blitzing linebacker Barrett Rudd that gets there before him
I've saved the best for last and this next play shows some fantastic work from Barwin. At the snap, he's lined up just outside the right tackle.
Barwin, once again, slants hard inside and Antonio Smith comes around the edge.
Smith would have the sack here if it weren't for a last-ditch diving block by the RT. Barwin hasn't given up yet, however, and when he sees Smith get knocked to the ground, he once again jumps to interfere with the passing lanes.
Locker sees that there is no play available from the position he's in, so he takes off running to his left. Make a note of where Barwin is in this next picture (far-right):
Mercilus is credited with the sack here, but just look how much ground Barwin has covered to even be in the area. The ball actually got knocked loose here, but the play was whistled dead. If the referees had allowed them to continue, he'd have been in great position to recover the fumble.
There were about a dozen more plays like these over the course of the season and, if a few more of them had gone his way, we wouldn't be talking about a lack of production in 2012. The number of times QBs felt pressure from Barwin on the outside and stepped up in the pocked right into JJ Watt's arms was ridiculous. Even if he's not getting numbers in his own column, Barwin is definitely still an asset to the pass rush and I can only assume Kelly and Roseman had been watching plays like these before they decided to sign him.