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Mark Barron: Steelers Defense Even Better Than Top Units with Rams

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PITTSBURGH — On February 3, 2019, linebacker Mark Barron played in the Super Bowl for the first time in his NFL career.

The former first-round pick was one of a handful of players that came with the Rams from St. Louis to Los Angeles in 2016 and were still on the roster three years later as those Rams climbed to the highest stage in the sport.

On that stage, the Los Angeles defense played one of its best games, holding the New England Patriots to one touchdown and 13 points. Tom Brady had a 57.9 passer rating in the game.

Barron was second on the Rams with eight tackles and also defended a pass, a key cog in the success of one of the league’s most dominant defenses.

A month later, he was out of a job.

The Rams released Barron on March 5, as part of a series of moves to avoid a salary cap crunch. They’re still paying Barron $2 million in deferred signing bonus season and he quickly found new work with the Steelers so his time with the team wasn’t a total loss, but suffice to say there was some extra motivation for Barron on Sunday, when the Steelers hosted the Rams at Heinz Field.

Barron came through with a team-high 10 tackles and also broke up a pass from former teammate Jared Goff.

It hasn’t been a perfectly smooth transition to the Steelers defense. A hamstring injury limited Barron early on and the play of rookie first-round pick Devin Bush has meant that there haven’t been as many opportunities available as there might have been.

But since Stephon Tuitt was lost for the season with an injury, the Steelers have put in a three-inside-linebacker set that utilizes Barron, Bush and Vince Williams at the same time and the trio seems to be thriving in it. That set up Barron’s big day against his former mates. It was something he was looking forward to.

“First of all, it’s a game and I’m a competitor and I love playing this game, so I wanted to win to begin with and then the fact that it’s my old squad who I played with for most of my career, I definitely wanted to go out and make it look the way it did,” Barron said.

The way it did was a masterful performance, perhaps even better than the Rams’ effort in Super Bowl LIII. The Steelers held Los Angeles to just three points on offense, with the Rams’ nine other points coming from their defense. The Steelers sacked Goff four times, had four tackles for loss and caused four turnovers while decimating the Los Angeles attack.

“I’ve played with some really, really talented guys, but to go out and do what we’re doing — I’m mainly talking about causing these turnovers the way that we are — I’ve never been on a defense that was able to consistently cause turnovers that way that we do,” Barron said. “We’re doing it consistently. It’s not a fluke thing. We’re doing it week in and week out.”

Through nine games, the Steelers have the second-most takeaways in the NFL and have forced an average of 2.9 turnovers per game. Last season’s best defense averaged 2.2 turnovers per game, which means the Steelers are on pace to top last season’s best mark by 11 more takeaways.

That’s the kind of dominance that can lead a team places. Like the Super Bowl.

Steelers

Zach Banner Announces Self-imposed Social Media Ban Until he Signs New Deal

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Zach Banner is sending a clear message about his priorities ahead of the 2021 NFL season. Banner, who is a free agent and looking for a new deal with the Steelers, tweeted that he is going to stay off social media until he officially signs on the dotted line.

Zach Banner has become a prominent member of the Steelers, but that’s not because he’s had success on the field over the past year. Banner’s success has come off the field by connecting with fans on social media and doing his part to help those in need than he has on a football field. But by no means is that Banner’s fault. He suffered a season ending torn ACL in Week 1 of the 2020 season. This injury was especially devastating for the USC product because it occurred on the heels of Banner winning the starting right tackle position following a tough training camp battle with Chukwuma Okorafor.

Due to Banner’s injury, it was Okorafor who ended up starting 16 games, including the postseason. While Banner kept in good spirits and became his team’s loudest cheerleader on Twitter during games, it was clear he wanted to be on the field and contributing.

Earning a starting spot as a member of the Steelers offensive line was a major career achievement for Banner, but it was one he didn’t get to enjoy. Banner now hopes to return to Pittsburgh and be the missing piece the Steelers offensive line desperately needs.

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Rooney: Steelers Plan to Return to St. Vincent for 2021 Training Camp

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There is plenty that remains up in the air about the 2021 NFL offseason, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still have plans to resume one of their enduring traditions that was broken by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The Steelers were forced to forgo their trip to the campus of St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 2020 due to the NFL’s rules regarding keeping players isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s unclear how much those restrictions will change for the NFL teams this summer, but as things stand as of today, the Steelers are still making plans to return to the Laurel Highlands for the team’s annual training camp this summer.

“As we sit here today, our plan is to have training camp in Latrobe,” team president Art Rooney II said to Steelers.com on Friday. “We still have a ways to go to get there, but I think there’s a pretty good chance that’s going to be able to happen. We’re still hopeful we’re going to have some form of offseason program, and it’s probably not going to start on time but I think it’s important particularly for the young players that we get back to having an offseason program and then a full training camp and preseason games. I think we need to have that to help the young players continue to develop.”

Displaced from their usual bucolic summer home and from UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side due to capacity limitations, the Steelers spent the 2020 training camp and preseason at Heinz Field.

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NFL Network Analysts Call Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger 3rd-Best in AFC North

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It appears that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers, with both Roethlisberger’s agent and team president Art Rooney II making public statements that each party desires a return for 2021 this week.

But how much of a difference-maker will Roethlisberger be? That depends on his level of play this coming season.

NFL Network analysts and former NFL players Willie McGinest and LaDainian Tomlinson each ranked the quarterbacks of the AFC North and both said they think Roethlisberger is the third-best quarterback in the division, behind Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.

“I’m not taking anything away from Ben,” McGinest said. “Lamar Jackson is special and I put Baker in front of Ben because of what we’ve seen in the progression of Baker the last couple of years. … I see him getting better and Ben fighting father time, with the skills diminishing just a little bit.”

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Tomlinson said. “We’ve seen, in spurts, Big Ben play well. He started out hot. But he didn’t finish so well. … He looked old and beat up toward the end of the season. I’m just not sure that improves.”

Statistically, Roethlisberger finished first amongst the four AFC North passers in completion percentage, but he was fourth in yards per attempt and third in passer rating and QBR. Pro Football Focus ranked Roethlisberger last of the division’s four starters in 2020.

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