At the beginning of the season, the Packers were weak against the run. The Chicago game where Matt Forte tromped all over the Packers defense finally convinced the coaching staff that something had to be done. Since that time, the Packers have still given up yards in the running game, but there has been a different attitude. I know that the improvement is usually credited to moving Clay Matthews inside and yes, that was a big part of it. But Sam Barrington has made his presence known and I love how this kid is playing.
As a seventh round pick out of South Florida, Barrington had to climb the ladder the hard way on a team that has had AJ Hawk as a fixture, largely because he was a high draft pick and less because of his play. If the Packers needed an answer in a MLB that can hold down the middle of the field on his own, they may have found it in Barrington.
What he does right
Barrington is a LOT of what you want in the middle of the field. Against the Bills, Barrington led the team in tackles with 9 solo. But this is what you expect from a middle linebacker and AJ Hawk has led the team as well by virtue of position, but there is a difference. Barrington is an aggressive, nose-in tackler that can tackle through running backs. He has enough speed to close on the ball and punish the ball-carrier. While he can tackle from the trailing position, he as often as not ends up squared up with the ball carrier, delivering a rising blow and driving the RB back. This is a key difference.
But Barrington also has great instincts. He can sniff out the screen play and rotate over if the OLB gets sucked inside. Then he has the strength to bust the play up even if it is blocked up well.
What needs improvement
I think Sam Barrington has added a dimension to this year’s Packers defense. I would like to see more of him in blitz situations, not getting caught up in traffic. He is largely untested on this point and if he needs to learn, he has a great teacher in Clay Matthews (see “UnPACK the Play: Clay Matthews Sacks Kyle Orton).
We also have not seen a lot of Barrington in coverage, largely due to the fact that he is in mostly for expected run plays. But eventually he will be tested and have to perform. From what I have seen he has done a good job and has good ball skills for a big guy. This aspect of his game may be important and if he shows ability, it may win him even more playing time
So the rise of Sam Barrington is a boon for the Packers defense even though it may mean the demise of AJ Hawk. It is telling that AJ himself mentioned “getting booted” more than once in a recent interview on packers.com. And while there is no telling what AJ’s future holds, the Packers future has brightened by Sam Barrington’s play in the middle of the field.