The pass defense as a whole played miserably last season. After further analysis, there was little cohesion between the unit. Paired with bad technique, big play after big play was racked up to achieve the last ranked pass defense in the league. Some players had decent seasons like Ronde Barber and, believe it or not, E.J. Biggers. Others had outright terrible ones. So who was the worst player in pass defense?
Mark Barron was a great selection in last year's draft. He is one of the leading tacklers on the defense and showed flashes of great play making ability with his athleticism. However, he lacked the ability to be consistent in coverage last year.
Here, the Chargers are simply going to run a corner route with the outside receiver. To do this from an outside position, the receiver will first stem inside off the line of scrimmage to give himself room to later break to the sideline. The Buccaneers are in a Tampa 2 zone. The Chargers immediately release only one receiver to Barron's side of the field and, consequently, Barron has one responsibility: cover this one receiver deep.
As the receiver breaks down the field, Barron has his flipped to the inside. Why? Look at Barber. He also has a single receiver going deep on his side of the field and he has the same responsibility as Barron. Barber's hips are pointed downhill as he backpedals with the receiver and leaves himself a cushion to not get beat. Barron has no reason to have his hips so far inside.
Barron is left in no man's land as the receiver breaks to the sideline. He has to completely flip his hips 180 degrees before he can even start breaking down the distance between the two. Rivers turns this into an easy completion for 22 yards.
Later in the same offensive series, the Buccaneers are again in a Tampa 2 coverage. This time, San Diego is sending three receivers vertical. Barron is playing close to the line of scrimmage; he is probably trying to disguise the coverage. Upon the snap, or before it, Barron needs to get depth and gain proper leverage between the receivers.
After the snap, Barron doesn't do a good enough job of either. First off, he should have done a better job of splitting some of the distance between the two receivers. He has turned his hips completely outside because of his failure to do so- having his hips turned outside allows him to make a faster break on the ball if its thrown to the outside receiver. Secondly, look at the distance between the receivers and Mark. Yes, Barron is athletic, but that is Antonio Gates and an NFL receiver bearing down on you, rookie. When watched in full motion, Barron actually slows down his backpedal for no reason. Once again, look at Barber. He has given himself a generous amount of cushion to cover the receiver and has done a good job keeping his hips primarily down hill.
Further along, Barron now has his hips completely turned outside. He has left himself little ability to cover both receivers. Gates, the great receiver he is, notices Barron's poor technique and bends inside of him for a relatively easy catch. Mark would have been in a perfect position to cover both players had he left himself a proper cushion and leverage earlier in the play.
Again, Barron has to flip his hips 180 degrees before he can break on the ball. This delay on his break is not made up for by athleticism. The pass is completed for 33 yards.
By no means is Barron doomed to be a bad pass defender. He has the size, speed, and smarts to succeed and thrive in the NFL. However, size, speed, and smarts mean little if used alongside bad technique. There are stretches where Mark plays mistake free and looks great. Others, like the first half against the Chargers, he looks very poor. A lot of this inconsistency should be cleaned up with good coaching and experience. Although, it isn't a guarantee. Not all great athletes succeed in the NFL- technique is arguably the #1 reason why.
So why does he earn worst defender marks? The gains he gives up are huge plays. In Cover 2, it can be acceptable to give up that 5-8 yard pass from time to time. However, it is not okay to give up 20+ yard gains like it's nothing. To give some numbers, Pro Football Focus rated Mark Barron the 52nd best safety in pass coverage while Ronde Barber ranked 5th. Can you name 51 other safeties in the NFL?