Packers Right Tackle Don Barclay Played Better Than Grade Suggests

Don Barclay kept Aaron Rodgers alive, yet received a very low game grade. Was it fair?

[Author's note: portions of this article are based on previous discussions with Chris Kristofco  of Titletown Sound Off and with my co-hosts on the Out of the Pocket Podcast]. 

It wouldn't be a Packers season if the injury bug didn't hit, and that infection has already started to ravage the starting lineup. Luckily, the Packers appear to have depth at some key positions.

Right tackle appears to be one of those spots that has depth following the injury to starter Bryan Bulaga. Don Barclay, who missed all of the last season with a torn ACL, is once again being counted upon to shore up the right side of the formation while Bulaga heals over the next 6-8 weeks.

During the preseason, Barclay got some reps at left tackle while starter David Bakhtiari was nursing a sore knee. The switch from the right to left side wasn't exactly kind to Don, which started to strike some panic into Packers fans when it was announced he would start at right tackle against the fearsome Seattle Seahawks pass rush.

Maybe I was one of those people predicting Aaron Rodgers would need a spatula to pry his body from the Lambeau Field turf.

While I was pessimistic going into the game, I tried to be as optimistic as possible by remembering the 2013 season when Don started 14 games and preformed quite admirably.

After watching the game, a lot of my fears subsided when my gut reaction told me Barclay played quite well, especially since QB1 wasn't taken off the field on a meat wagon or body bag.

Barclay kept Rodgers upright and alive.

At this point, I was feeling pretty good moving forward and confident that Barclay would hold down the fort.

Then, I got blindsided when Pro Football Focus (PFF) revealed their grades for the Packers, and they seemed to absolutely decimate Don.

Perhaps even unfairly so.

This absolutely shocked me. Were they watching the same game that I did? Did they see that CPR wasn't necessary for QB1? Did they see Rodgers was only sacked twice and that Neo Starks had almost 100 yards rushing against a stout defense?

What gives?

Then, the grading criteria were partially revealed.

It appears that Barclay was being severely penalized for allowing QB pressures.

Maybe that's legit.

Or, maybe it's not.

Personally, it's a little unfair. I understand the people at PFF have a tough job and they do the best they can. However, one of their criticisms is they don't know the game plan.

In this case, I think the game plan was to protect Barclay against a fearsome pass rush.

Don was matched up against Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and Bruce Irvin, who are about as good as they come at rushing the passer. They are fast and strong, and give even the best tackles in the NFL fits.

There are several ways to protect an offensive tackle against superior pass rushers, including chipping by another player, quick passing, and riding the rusher to the back of the pocket.

The Packers appeared, at least in my eyes, to be protecting Barclay with the last two options; I don't seem to remember any instances when they chose to chip.

In the picture below, during the opening drive, the Packers came out with a quick pass. In less than two seconds from the snap of the ball, Rodgers let it fly to an open Davante Adams (standing on the 40-yard line marker). A quick pass is one of the most effective ways to minimize and slow down a monstrous pass rush. The ball is gone before the rush can ever get home.

Barclay was able to block his man and form a throwing lane for the quick pass. You can also see the interior linemen of Josh Sitton, Corey Linsley, and T.J. Lang are already heading up field to block, clearing showing this was a tempo play.

Another effective method to protect the pass blocker from a superior rush is to use the speed and aggression of the pass rusher against himself.

If the rusher wants to explode up field, let him. Once he turns the corner, collapse down on him and push him to the back of the pocket. This allows the quarterback to step up in the pocket and into the throwing lane. 

It may not be the prettiest way at stopping the rush, but it's very effective. In fact, it's taught at all levels of football because it's so adequate and useful.

There were many examples of this concept during the game, but the play below best illustrates it. In the following three pictures, you can see how Barclay rides the rusher to the back of the pocket, Rodgers steps up into the pocket to his right, and then hits Cobb on a crossing route, who was also running to the right.

This entire play seemed to be a symphony of those three moving parts. The facts that Rodgers rolled right and hit a route breaking to the right suggest that this was all by design.

They wanted Barclay to ride the rusher to the back of the pocket. Even more telling is the running back (44) has his eyes to the middle of the formation and pays no worry to Barclay on the edge. 

Moreover, this is a prime example of how PFF might downgrade Barclay for allowing a pressure when in fact it may have been part of the overall play call, if not the entire game plan itself. The play above clearly shows how Barclay took care of his man in the pass rush and allowed Rodgers to step up and complete a pass on the run.

I'll take that all day long. 

So to quote QB1 from a year ago, "R-E-L-A-X." 

The right tackle situation is fine, and it will only continue to improve while Barclay gets more reps and returns to form after missing an entire year.

Trust your own eyes, the coaching staff, and enjoy the ride.

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Comments (19)

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RCPackerFan's picture

September 23, 2015 at 01:35 pm

I don't always agree with PFF grades mostly because they don't know the game plan or the intentions on each play.
Was the game plan to have Barclay block the DE inside so Rodgers can escape outside, or was it to block him outside so Rodger can step up in the pocket?

I think Barclay was better then their grade. I am sure he wasn't as good as I thought he was watching the game live, but I don't think he was as bad as they have for him either.

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dobber's picture

September 23, 2015 at 02:41 pm

My question, and it's serious for anyone who knows, is whether PFF takes into account the "grade" or quality of the competition? Meaning, an OL who plays in the NFC West...maybe for San Fran...might see higher quality opposing DL from AZ, StL, and Sea than an OL who plays for, say, Houston. Just as a function of who the divisional opponents are. Does anyone know the answer to this question?

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Mojo's picture

September 23, 2015 at 03:50 pm

I looked on PFF's site briefly to see if I could find how they defined the term "pressure". Since I still don't know, I have to go by what I saw Sunday. And to me Barclay passed the eye-test.

I didn't focus on him on every play, but I didn't see a beeline to the QB from Barclay's side. He gave up no sacks, no hits. Sounds decent to me.

So much of Barclay's grade is influenced by what and why ARod did what he did on a play. Maybe some of AR's movement had nothing to do with pressure at all, just better angles or happy feet.

Anyway, I need to know what a PFF pressure consists of before I can dissect it.

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croatpackfan's picture

September 24, 2015 at 02:34 am

I think it is always good for OL man when you do not pay attention to him. That means he is doing his job correctly!

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Mojo's picture

September 23, 2015 at 03:46 pm

Edit

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Mojo's picture

September 23, 2015 at 03:46 pm

Oops

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Mojo's picture

September 23, 2015 at 03:48 pm

Sorry not worth reading three times, but my posting went so slow I thought it didn't go through. So I sent two more times. Went back and got rid to the the last two. Nothing to see here.....

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jh9's picture

September 23, 2015 at 05:11 pm

I had the same problem, Mojo. For whatever reason, the CHTV website is loading slow.

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jh9's picture

September 23, 2015 at 06:37 pm

My intention here is not to bash Barclay. I can only respond to what I saw happen during the Seattle game. When the Packers offense had the ball, I watched Barclay. Although he didn't technically give up a sack, I saw numerous times when he was bull-rushed right back into AR and AR had to step around Barclay and the player Barclay was blocking to find a passing lane. I also saw a couple of times when Barclay's man got around him and AR released the ball before a sack could occur.

I have no dog in this fight and I don't claim to understand how PFF grades. I can say that I saw a poor performance out of both Barclay and Bakhtiari and if we had any other QB than AR, I believe we would have lost that game.

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jh9's picture

September 23, 2015 at 06:34 pm

My intention here is not to bash Barclay. I can only respond to what I saw happen during the Seattle game. When the Packers offense had the ball, I watched Barclay. Although he didn't technically give up a sack, I saw numerous times when he was bull-rushed right back into AR and AR had to step around Barclay and the player Barclay was blocking to find a passing lane. I also saw a couple of times when Barclay's man got around him and AR released the ball before a sack could occur.

I have no dog in this fight and I don't claim to understand how PFF grades. I can say that I saw a poor performance out of both Barclay and Bakhtiari and if we had any other QB than AR, I believe we would have lost that game.

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jh9's picture

September 23, 2015 at 04:37 pm

My intention here is not to bash Barclay. I can only respond to what I saw happen during the Seattle game. When the Packers offense had the ball, I watched Barclay. Although he didn't technically give up a sack, I saw numerous times when he was bull-rushed right back into AR and AR had to step around Barclay and the player Barclay was blocking to find a passing lane. I also saw a couple of times when Barclay's man got around him and AR released the ball before a sack could occur.

I have no dog in this fight and I don't claim to understand how PFF grades. I can say that I saw a poor performance out of both Barclay and Bakhtiari and if we had any other QB than AR, I believe we would have lost that game.

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Since'61's picture

September 23, 2015 at 09:47 pm

If someone told me that Barclay was going to replace Bulaga against Seattle and allow no sacks on Rodgers I would ask where can I sign off. For that matter if you told me that Bulaga would not allow a sack against Seattle I would ask where could I sign off on that. Seattle has one of the best pass rushing DLs in the NFL. Barclay was playing his 1st game since the 2013 season. To complain about his performance or believe that another backup player could perform better is pure speculation. As others here have already mentioned PFF has no idea what the game plan or what the play assignments are. PFF's rankings can be used as a guide but they are not accurate within the context of a particular game or play. Was Barclay perfect? No. Did he get the job done. Yes, emphatically! The Packers won the game, Rodgers was well protected and the run blocking was effective. If anything I'm more concerned about Bakh's performance than Barclay. Hopefully we will get the same or better performance from the OL against KC. Go Pack! Thanks, Since '61

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Bohj's picture

September 23, 2015 at 10:58 pm

Barclay has been more than serviceable. I was quite sad for him and the team when we lost that depth last year. Now that he's healthy......I'm so glad that depth is back.
Could care less what pff graded him out as. Pff is a useful tool. But numbers don't mean much when you don't know the story. I would be more curious what his grades were from our defensive line coach. That would be a better story. Either way....he is no Newhouse. And Walker is not better or he'd be playing ahead of Barclay. Barclay is a road grader too for the run game. When he's back up to speed, he'll be even better.

As far as Bahk goes. Sitton said he's been battling through something. That he didn't look right. But that he'll back to himself soon.

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Mike Blythe's picture

September 24, 2015 at 01:37 am

I want to say i agree on Barclay there were a few things he could improve on but i do know that the coaches we have will always play the best that we have available and overall i think Don did a more than adequate job.

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croatpackfan's picture

September 24, 2015 at 02:50 am

Well all your complaints looks little bit to harsh to both tackles. Is there the number of snaps tackles are playing to be compared with how many times they are losing their ground, by being pushed back or by allowing pass rusher go through them? I say up to 5% is OK.
Also, Jay wrote one thing which is of the utnost inportance. Game plan. I think Packers decided to go with both tackles with plan to drive the rushers behind the pocket. There was just 2 sacks from one of the best rushers duo in the league! I say it is OK! Also, how many times we saw our pass rushers or blitzes or DL went trhough and pressured QB? In todays football you will not win all of your battles. The best LG in the league, Josh Sitton was guilty for penalty. I'm not complaining. Just saying everybody can make misktakes. Cory & T. J. also was responsible for some holding penalties during the game. What those penalties says. They made them because they lost one on one battles. It happens. I'm satisfied with our OL. They played better last year, but I think with time they will play again on that level. All those problems is here, because they played very, very little during the TC and preseason!

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sheppercheeser's picture

September 24, 2015 at 07:11 am

To say Barclay isn't as good as the other GB Offensive Lineman isn't a slam- just more of a comment as to how good the rest of the linemen play. Barclay did well and will continue to get better under the tutelage of Sitton and Lang.

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TommyG's picture

September 24, 2015 at 12:53 pm

It takes a lot of work by PFF to come up with their numbers; and for that I applaud them. The problem with PFF is that the numbers are just raw numbers that are out of context. Yes, the o-line graded poorly due to pressures allowed, but they allowed that pressure against one of the best rushing d-line in the league. As with all things football, watch what happens on the field. Getting caught up solely in the numbers is a mistake.

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SpudRapids's picture

September 24, 2015 at 02:53 pm

I think everyone's overly critical of Barclay and Bahk. Bruce Irvine and Cliff Avril have destroyed many tackle combinations over the past couple of years. I thought both of these guys held their own. Bahk is banged up and Barclay made his first start in around 2 years. Both had things working against them and they played well enough to give Arod time and Starks to run for 95 on a stout defense.

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steven10825's picture

September 24, 2015 at 03:52 pm

Barclay actually played much better than I predicted. His grade is definitely shocking seeing as how he appeared to play better than our Lt, at least from what i saw

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