The upcoming 2016 season has had its fair share of hype- many analysts have pegged the Pittsburgh Steelers as one of, if not the, powerhouse in the AFC; expected to make noise come January. We’ve seen the lucrative potential of the offense take shape, leaving many fans anxiously awaiting the ’16 campaign to begin.
That being said, almost every football fan is familiar with the aphorism, “defense wins championships”, and by taking a look at the history of the Steelers, very few would disagree. Thus, we take a look at one of the centerpieces of the 2016 defense- a player whose potential could take the group to another level, but whose struggles could cripple their success. Today, we take a look at ILB Ryan Shazier.
Run Support and Coverage
We know Ryan Shazier has the speed to run with anybody, but how often does he put that speed to work? In 2015 including the playoffs, Shazier had 30 stops (a tackle that results in the offense losing or not gaining any yards) on 265 snaps against the run. This results in averaging a stop every 11.3 runs, ranking him 10th in the NFL among inside linebackers.
Coverage seemed to have posed more of an issue for Shazier last year, as he allowed 44 catches for 408 yards on 63 primary targets. Moreover, we unfortunately see the plague of missed tackles come into play quite often: Shazier missed a total of 14 tackles over a span of 14 total games, of which 9 occurred after a receiver made a reception.
Comparing Shazier’s pass coverage to the rest of the NFL leaves a lot to be desired, allowing a reception every 9.3 coverage snaps. This ranks him inside the 7 worst ILBs, who have played at least 50% of their team’s snaps.
All that being said, Ryan Shazier illustrates flashes of brilliance, leaving fans to wonder what exactly he could achieve on the field if he put it all together (and was able to avoid injury).
Taking a look at last year’s wildcard game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Shazier illustrated just how high his ceiling is. Of Shazier’s game-high 12 tackles, 9 of them were at or behind the line of scrimmage; 5 were against the run, and 4 in coverage. He did not miss a tackle, and when he was asked to get after the quarterback, he generated 3 pressures on 8 rushes.
His brilliance was not limited there, as he also shined in coverage as well- he allowed 6 catches on 10 targets for 33 yards, and was credited with a pass defended against A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. Seeing him put that game together left fans wiping the drool from their mouths at the potential trophy the Steelers drafted 15th overall in 2014.
The Bad & The Ugly
Ryan Shazier has had his ups and downs, and can sometimes look like a Pro Bowl veteran and an overwhelmed rookie all at the same time. One of those games popped up against the San Francisco 49ers during week 2, where he recorded a sack and 6 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage, but also missed 4 tackles and allowed 7 catches on 8 targets. He also had very poor games against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders a few weeks later.
In sum, the upcoming 2016 campaign could be a thing of beauty for Ryan Shazier. If he could avoid the injury bug in his third season, which has troubled him to miss a total of 12 games in his first two, and get rid of the inconsistent blemishes that exist in his game, he has the toolset to become a game changer and quarterback for a defense looking for a leader- a defense that could help propel the Steelers to their 7th Lombardi Trophy.