You may not be surprised to learn that Pittsburgh Steelers third-year inside linebacker Ryan Shazier had another strong game to open the season on Monday night, finishing with six total tackles, one forced fumble, one interception, and one pass defensed. But you may also find yourself experiencing déjà vu upon reading that he did not finish the game.
Shazier appeared to suffer a knee injury on the second play of the fourth quarter as he was driving to the ground to make a tackle on the tight end over the middle of the field on a five-yard reception. His knee seemed to drive into the turf for his efforts, and he tapped his helmet prior to the next snap to signal that he would be checking out, which he did two plays later.
But this article is about what happened after Shazier checked out, because defensive coordinator Keith Butler utilized a variety of looks in replacing the former first-round draft pick, using two different players in his place, while also dabbling with a full series of quarter defense.
For the final two plays of that drive that opened the fourth quarter, it was L.J. Fort who checked in to take Shazier’s spot at the mack linebacker position. He missed a tackle, and knocked a fellow defender off the ball carrier, on his first play in the game.
On the Steelers’ next drive, the defense ran strictly with six defensive backs on the field, and the possession started with Fort as the lone inside linebacker on the field, suggesting that he may have been getting the defensive signals. He rushed the passer on the second play and nearly recorded a strip sack.
After that second play, however, Fort was subbed out and Timmons checked in as the lone inside linebacker on the field in the quarter defense for the remaining four plays of the drive.
On the Steelers’ final defensive possession, they did not use the quarter at all, but instead kept Fort on the sideline and brought in Vince Williams, who was the assumed third inside linebacker for either spot, and, really, it is not clear why Williams may not have been brought on the field initially in the first place, with Fort seeing the first four snaps filling in for Shazier.
Neither player registered a tackle in their playing time, though Fort did have the quarterback pressure that forced an incompletion and nearly more. But it showed that Butler was willing to get creative and to mix and match on the fly when presented with the adverse circumstance of losing one of his most crucial defenders in the middle of a game—let alone in the middle of a drive.
Of course, the Redskins scored two plays after Shazier checked out of the game, and his replacement was responsible for creating the 20-yard gain on the first play with him out that set up a first-and-goal at the one. But Washington went scoreless in desperate need of points on its final two possessions, facing a different personnel grouping on each series.