Kevin Gorman: Steelers counting on LBs Mark Barron, Devin Bush
Neither Mark Barron nor Devin Bush has ever played against Lamar Jackson, so the Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebackers can only go by what they have watched on film.
Barron and Bush are impressed by the Baltimore Ravens second-year quarterback, who has evolved into the NFL’s most dangerous dual-threat playmaker.
“It’s most definitely a different dynamic with him being as high-level as he is, as far as running the ball,” Barron said. “As far as being a running quarterback, he’s probably the best one in the league at this moment.”
The Steelers are well aware of Jackson’s passing ability, given he has completed 65% of his passes for 1,110 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.
When the Steelers played the Ravens last season, Jackson had yet to supplant Joe Flacco as the starter and was still in a specialized role, with nine carries for 27 yards and only one pass for 12 yards in two AFC North games against the Steelers.
Now, the Steelers respect Jackson’s arm as much as his legs.
How will the Steelers keep Jackson honest? They have to force him to play in the pocket, prevent him from finding vertical seams to hit quick passes and convert long downs. They have to force him to make good decisions and even better throws. Mostly, they have to stay disciplined to tackle Jackson.
That’s where the Ravens have to respect Barron and Bush, who are coming off their best performance of the season in the 27-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on “Monday Night Football.” They combined for 20 tackles (four for losses), two pass breakups, a sack and an interception.
“I think both guys are growing and, boy, we need them to,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
It was the first time the Steelers newcomers stood out in the same game this season. And the timing couldn’t have been better, given it was the first of two consecutive division games and the Steelers were playing without Vince Williams.
This is why the Steelers prioritized adding speed at inside linebacker this offseason, signing Barron via free agency and trading up to draft Bush with their first-round pick to complement Williams.
The upgrade isn’t lost on John Harbaugh. The Ravens coach faced Barron when he was with the Los Angeles Rams and got to know Bush when he played for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan — “My brother loves him, one of his favorite players of all time” — and raved about their aggressive playmaking.
“They’ve added all that speed,” Harbaugh said, “and I think that’s been good for the Steelers.”
Barron’s performance was a boost, especially after he recorded only one stop at San Francisco. Not only did he have a season-high 11 tackles, but Barron twice prevented touchdowns with plays in the end zone.
Bush followed a breakout game at San Francisco — 11 tackles and two fumble recoveries — with another against Cincinnati. He had nine tackles (seven solo), three tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
That Barron and Bush are developing chemistry is an important development for a defense that is starting to click. As they learn the defense, their speed is starting to show up with big plays.
“We know it’s not a finished product,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said, “but those two guys are huge for us.”
What would be huge for the Steelers is if Barron and Bush continue to polish the product, particularly this week.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .