The Pittsburgh Steelers defense really could have used Ryan Shazier back after missing four games with what seemed to be a minor shoulder injury, but on Sunday, he was only back, really, by name, as he did not have the sort of impact that you would expect him to have.
The second-year starter certainly looked as though he has some rust that needs knocking off after being out the past month, missing a couple of tackles, making few others, and generally having an insubstantial impact on the game, barring a split sack on double A gap blitz on which he was the second player to get home.
Perhaps his most meaningful play of the game actually failed to register on the stats sheet—it was the only non-passing play on which the Steelers registered a tackle for loss. On the final play of the first quarter, after a 25-yard completion, Shazier rushed the play side B gap, forcing the right tackle to abandon a designed double team on Bud Dupree to pick him up. That allowed Dupree to free himself from the tight end to get in the backfield and drop the back for a four-yard loss.
That was not the same player that showed up a few plays later, seemingly missing the snap as he was the last player to move. Cam Thomas, playing left end, crashed into him as a result, and the shifting right guard ended up doubling back to pick him up, resulting in a nine-yard gain.
Had Shazier been on time, this is a play he could have made behind the line of scrimmage. The reason that he wasn’t? window dressing. Just before the snap, the Chiefs motion a runner behind the formation to present the illusion of an end around. Shazier clearly bit on the misdirection for the desired effect.
There were times, at least, that the former first-round pick was able to display his range, as on a four-yard carry late in the first half. Charcandrick West took a handoff through a wide open B gap to the open side of the field. Shazier, lined up to the short side of the field outside of the tackle box, not only saw this right away, but got to the play in a hurry, getting a hold of the back by the leg, though he did not make the tackle. I suppose for some this would amount to a missed tackle, though for others perhaps not.
Early in the second half, facing a third and four at their his own nine-yard line, Alex Smith was forced out of the pocket, and ultimately forced to throw the ball away due to Shazier’s closing speed. The linebacker was in coverage on the play, but when the front four drove Smith out of the pocket, Shazier smelled blood, and the potential for a safety, but at least induced a throwaway to force a punt.
The offense quickly gave the ball back, however, and in just two minutes of elapse game time, Shazier found himself unable to make a play up the middle against the run. He did well initially to shed the pulling center, but was unable to close and make the tackle in the hole.
He and Lawrence Timmons did manage to end the quarter on a positive note, racking up the aforementioned sack on a double A gap blitz. Timmons was the first in, peppering the wide gap left up the middle, and Shazier followed suit as the center overcommitted trying to come back and pick up the other linebacker.