The Texans have said over and over this season that while Connor Barwin’s sack production is down from last year, the outside linebacker is playing well.
On Thanksgiving, he jumped from his weakside linebacker spot to the strong side when Brooks Reed went down with a groin injury, and he’ll stay there while Reed is out for a while recovering from the injury.
I hardly think Barwin’s been terrible. But one big theme with the Texans right now is that they need more pressure, more consistently from places other than J.J. Watt. Barwin should be leading that charge. Instead, he’s got only two sacks. His 10 tackles for a loss and 13 quarterback hits rank behind only Watt on the Texans.
Barwin is a smart guy and I am sure he’s able to compartmentalize.
Still, somewhere in the back of his head it has to crop up that he’s costing himself a lot of money this season. The Texans had a contract offer on the table for him before the season and he decided not to sign it.
Pro Football Focus, which rates players on every snap, has Barwin 27th in its ratings of outside linebackers in 3-4 schemes. Last year he was 19th. But his rating was minus-4.6 in 2011 and is minus-5.8 now, not a gigantic difference.
After the season, as he approaches free agency, the deal the Texans present is unlikely to be as good as that last one. He was coming off a team-leading 11.5-sack season then.
His agent is sure to pull out comments like this one from Gary Kubiak, from his conference call with Nashville reporters this morning.
“I think he has played well,” Kubiak said. “I do know that the numbers aren’t there like they were last year. But his effort and his consistency as a player and the way he grades out every week it’s been every bit as good as last year.
“We’re asking him to do something new, he played like 70-plus at the Sam position, switched positions right in the middle of the game last week. A lot of that’s on us and what he’s had to do. What we get from him every week has been consistent and I think the other things will take care of themselves.”
Rookie first-round draft pick Whitney Mercilus will be playing in Barwin’s regular weakside spot while Reed is out, probably about three weeks. Bryan Braman will see action as the third outside linebacker.
If those two fare well, it’ll show the Texans how expendable Barwin may be in the harsh realities of the NFL. General manager Rick Smith has shown he’s not afraid to let key people walk.
And Barwin’s best chance to cash in may wind up coming elsewhere.
Neither side is thinking much about that now, since the Texans are nearing the home stretch of what might turn into a dream season.