When the Cleveland Browns selected outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 draft, many scratched their heads. While he has only played three games, he has already shown flashes of the talent the front office saw in him.
Injuries to outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and Quentin Groves have forced Mingo into starting action quicker than the front office may have liked. Either way, Mingo held his own while playing all 68 snaps in the Browns’ victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
He currently leads all rookies with three sacks and has added 10 tackles. Mingo was not dominant in run defense Sunday, but he was not a liability either.
He has relied on his athleticism and speed thus far. His next step in development will be adding other moves to his arsenal.
Let’s look at three plays from Mingo’s first three games.
Play 1: First quarter of Week 2 against Baltimore
This was Mingo’s first play of his NFL career. It is 1st-and-10 and the Ravens are driving into Browns territory. As you can see, he is lined up wide right. The Ravens are in a run formation that will have the guard block toward the center and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie engage with Mingo one-on-one.
The guard has blocked defensive end John Hughes toward the center position, opening a huge hole for Ravens running back Ray Rice. At this point, Mingo does not know that this will be a play-action pass.
You can see he has already committed to the outside rush and is aggressively attacking McKinnie’s outside shoulder. He is deep enough in the backfield that he should be looking to cut under McKinnie and stop the run.
Instead of handing off, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco keeps the ball. Mingo, who is already committed to the outside, blows right by McKinnie.
Before Flacco can plant his feet, Mingo has the sack.
While the end result was a nine-yard loss, Mingo will learn in time that an all-out pass rush on every play actually hurts the run game. Recognizing formations is important, and this is one of the Ravens’ base run formations.
Mingo was understandably enthusiastic about his first snap and went full speed into a pass rush. Either way, the kid got his first career sack on his first career play. Not too shabby.
Play 2: First quarter of Week 4 against Cincinnati
The Bengals have a first down and are driving into Browns territory. This time, the formation is shotgun, which usually signifies pass rush. Mingo will be one-on-one with offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth on the outside. He must also anticipate possibly seeing a chip block from running back Giovani Bernard.
On this play, Whitworth has stonewalled Mingo. While he has been stopped on his outside pass rush, he is keeping good distance between himself and Whitworth. This distance does not allow Whitworth to have leverage over Mingo and control his direction.
Bernard leaves the backfield. Quarterback Andy Dalton sees Bernard will be covered by linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. He feels pressure that is not there and decides to follow Bernard through the hole instead of taking advantage of the favorable matchup.
As Dalton tries to run through the hole, Mingo uses his athleticism and speed to push off of Whitworth and change direction. He sacks Dalton before he can gain any yardage.
This was a heads-up play by Mingo. He recognized the outside pass rush was not available and still kept from getting pushed too deep into the backfield. This allowed for him to adjust if Dalton were to scramble or if Bernard caught a short pass to his side of the field.
Play3: Second quarter of Week 4 against Cincinnati
This was one of the key plays in the Browns’ victory Sunday. It is 4th-and-1 in the Browns’ red zone with less than five minutes remaining in the first half.
The Bengals line up in a power run package. The guard and tackle will both block toward the center and Mingo will be left one-on-one with the fullback. If he cannot beat his block, Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis will have an easy first down.
Safety Tashaun Gipson will stay in a zone to protect against the play-action pass.
The Browns’ defensive line clogs the inside hole, but Whitworth still has the outside of the line sealed. It is up to Mingo to take away the cutback lane. If Mingo is blocked cleanly Ellis will have a lane between Whitwoth and his fullback.
Mingo goes low and drives the fullback into the cutback lane. This forces Ellis to change paths and run right into the teeth of the defense. Ellis was stopped short of the line, forcing a Bengals turnover.
This was a very intelligent play by Mingo. Instead of trying to be the hero and fighting for the tackle, he recognized his assignment. He sealed off any cutback lane and forced Ellis into the strength of the defense.
Mingo has a long way to go before people can call him a successful draft pick, but after just three games, he is well on his way. He has a tendency to rush too deep and overpursue on run plays, but those things are normal for rookies.
The fact that he recognizes assignments and isn’t being dominated this early in his career is a great sign. His athleticism and explosiveness were never a question. As long as Mingo can stay healthy, he will consistently improve into a dominating outside force.