clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Analyzing the play of Steelers ILB Mark Barron, Part 2: Pass Defense

New, comments

Finishing the in-depth look at Mark Barron’s day in Cincinnati.

Seattle Seahawks v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

In part one of this film room we looked at Mark Barron in run defense, today we are going to look at Mark Barron on passing plays.

Mark Barron was signed in free agency to address a major issue on the Steelers 2018 defense, speed (lack of it specifically) at the ILB position. In 2018 the Steelers frequently had T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree covering TE’s and even WRs because both Jon Bostic and Vince Williams were inadequate in coverage. Barron’s speed and cover ability were valued highly by the Steelers for that reason. While Barron wasn’t targeted much in Cincinnati, he still showed a lot of his strengths and weaknesses.

Countering LB-WR mismatches

This is perhaps the most important part of Barron’s role on the Steelers. When the opposing offense manages to get a WR matched up with a LB, Mark Barron’s job is to be that LB.

Mark Barron is second from the top, matched up with Auden Tate.

On this play the Bengals motion Joe Mixon out wide, and that switches the defensive assignments so that Haden is on Mixon and Barron on Tate. Barron easily stays with Tate, although if you compare his defense to Mike Hilton defending a similar route on the other side of the field you can tell that Barron does not put himself in position to make a play on the ball. That’s why he’s a safety that moved to LB, and not a CB. He does well for a LB and makes any potential throw a harder one.

Barron is second from the bottom, covering Tyler Boyd.

Again the Bengals motion Mixon outside, this time Steven Nelson switches to Mixon and Barron covers Boyd. Barron struggles with a sharp cut from Boyd, because while Barron is fast, he doesn’t have elite agility or acceleration anymore. Nelson helps hold it to a 6 yard gain, and that is acceptable. When the Steelers need a LB to cover a WR on these switches, Mark Barron is able to limit the damage.

As a last note on this play, it is important to note the 2 deep safeties and Barron’s heavy inside leverage to make sure Boyd can’t attack the deep middle of the field.

Shutting down TEs

Probably the number one reason Barron was signed was to help cover tight ends. In 2018 the Steelers ranked 31st in the NFL in Football Outsider’s DVOA defending tight ends, second worst in the NFL. They responded by signing a player that has been good at guarding TEs his whole career, as a SS for the Buccaneers and as a LB for the Rams.

Mark Barron starts this play just below the “B”, covering C.J. Uzomah.

Barron doesn’t allow anything on this route, sitting in the TE’s pocket and giving no passing window at all to the QB. This is Barron’s #1 value to the Steelers, he shuts down deep TE routes with ease. Deep seams like this from TEs plagued the Steelers in 2018, Mark Barron has been a big part of taking away these plays in 2019.

Mark Barron is the ILB to the left, covering C.J. Uzomah.

Without the elite agility of a Tyler Boyd and the benefit of Barron playing inside leverage, Uzomah is unable to create any space between him and Barron with this route and Ryan Finley is forced to go to the other side of the field to get rid of the football.

Mark Barron has done the job covering TEs here in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers rank 3rd in DVOA against TEs in 2019. This is a major reason he was signed here, and it has worked out well.

Covering RBs

One of the most common assignments facing an ILB in zone or man is covering RBs coming out of the backfield as receivers.

Barron starts this play on the left hash mark, covering Joe Mixon.

This is pretty simple, Barron just runs with Mixon. It doesn’t look very impressive at all. There are a lot of plays like this. Barron takes away these little routes that teams use as a safety valve for their QB and for quick cheap yards. Barron is a big reason the Steelers rank 4th in Football Outsiders DVOA against RBs as receivers, and if you prefer basic stats, Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb and Joe Mixon combined for 0 receptions against the Pittsburgh Steelers the last three games. That broke a 33 game reception streak for Mixon, who is averaging 2 receptions a game this season. Nick Chubb is averaging 3 receptions a game and Gurley has 21 receptions in 10 games this year.

Mark Barron does have a few glaring weaknesses in coverage, the first being his ball skills, where he does not look for the ball after he has turned and run with a receiver, and the second is periodic lack of effort.

Mark Barron is the dime backer on this play, in the middle to start the play.

Barron takes a poor angle to the RB, and then gives a rather sad effort to catch him. Nothing makes me more angry than a player jogging after a guy who just beat them. This is terrible effort. This time it doesn’t cost the Steelers too much, but it has in the past, and it likely will again. As much value as Barron has brought to the defense he’s also had far too many plays like this. I was going to use another play with Giovanni Bernard where the Bengals send Bernard in motion and he sprints across the field to try and create space for an easy pass, but Barron runs with him the whole way, and doesn’t even run hard to match Bernard’s speed. This is not Mark Barron’s top gear, it isn’t even close. That is inexcusable.


Mark Barron is not a good pass rusher, but he got a sack against Cincinnati and it wasn’t even one of his top two pass rush plays.

Mark Barron starts on the far right of the screen, outside TJ Watt.

This is a fantastic rush design by Keith Butler, and it utilizes Mark Barron’s athleticism and awareness perfectly. The goal of any blitz is to get pressure on the QB that is more valuable than the loss of a man in coverage. Trying to add pressure and not sacrifice coverage is the goal of every pass rush tactician.

Butler and Barron cheat the game here, and get the benefit of an extra rusher without sacrificing a man in coverage. Mark Barron rushes the QB, and he covers Joe Mixon. But to really appreciate this play, you need to watch it in slow motion.

The LT, Bobby Hart tries to pass off T.J. Watt to the guard after that wicked spin move, and Hart moves to block Mark Barron, who promptly turns and runs away to cover Joe Mixon. Meanwhile Butler sends Javon Hargrave stunting around the outside, completely free because the LT is pre-occupied with the thought of two rushers attacking his inside gap. It is incredibly satisfying to see 3 offensive lineman needing to block 2 defenders, only to have both defenders come free while two of the lineman try to block a guy who isn’t even rushing (#66 actually follows Barron when he cuts across him to get to Mixon).

This is one of the coolest plays I have ever seen, and it goes to show just how good Keith Butler is at drawing up rushes, and why the Steelers have a 15 sack lead on the team with the second most sacks since 2015. Barron does these fake blitzes quite a bit, and they work really well most of the time.

Mark Barron is on the line, between Watt and Hargrave.

This is something I never would have expected to see. Mark Barron leading a stunt for Javon Hargrave. Keith Butler runs a lot of stunts where the OLB is setting the stunt for the DE, but to do it with 230 lb Mark Barron setting up a stunt for your 305 lb nose tackle? That’s crazy. Crazy enough to work, as it does here. Notice the end of the play, this stunt is why Ryan Finley couldn’t take advantage of his WR torching Joe Haden on a double move. Javon Hargrave messes with Finley’s follow through and the ball sails high and incomplete.

When Mark Barron was cut by the Rams, the talk there was that he held his own in the run game, covered well but never seemed to be worth the big contract the Rams gave him. I would agree. Barron isn’t a star player, he doesn’t have a lot of splash plays, has a few glaring weaknesses with his poor ball skills and periodic lapses in effort, but he covers well and holds his own in the run game. The Steelers paid him because they were desperate to solve their problems defending TEs and RBs in the passing game, and Barron has done a great job in those areas, with exceptions for truly excellent receiving backs like James White and Kareem Hunt.

So while Mark Barron is not the LB Steelers fans would like him to be, he is the LB the Steelers needed, and Tomlin and Butler are using him really well.