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.