The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been without a lot of its firepower for important stretches of this season, but they have been slowly getting arguably their most impactful defender back lately in inside linebacker Ryan Shazier. He returned in the final game before the bye, and while he did not start, he played the majority of snaps, with mixed results.
Today, however, he started, and on initial observation appears to have gotten nearly all of the snaps, and was able to have an impact while doing so. While he tied Lawrence Timmons for the team lead with 10 tackles, and added a late half-sack, his biggest impact of the day was in his recognition, and using his mind and his speed to blow up plays.
The former first-round draft pick’s fourth tackle of the day was a big one. With the Ravens already backed in their own end at the 16-yard line, he knifed through the gap on first down and put his helmet on the ball with Terrance West carrying it, hitting him two yards behind the line of scrimmage and jarring the ball loose.
Unfortunately, the Ravens were able to recover the ball all the way back at their own three-yard line, but it did set Baltimore back substantially, and even after picking up nine yards on second down, ended up punting on fourth and eight. Even with a 41-yard net punt, the offense was able to take over at the 41.
Early in the third quarter, Shazier blew up another play in the backfield, this time a screen pass to running back Kenneth Dixon. He did an excellent job of reading the play and anticipating the throw. He timed the play so well and got there so quickly that he nearly defended the pass. But instead it was caught, and he dropped the back for a four-yard loss. Unfortunately, a quarterback scramble for a first down on third and 12 later briefly salvaged the drive, although they did end up punting after that.
Including the sack, four of Shazier’s tackles were recorded as ‘stops’, and he also had a fifth stop in the run game that was negated by a defensive penalty by his teammate.
So far as the initial eye test is concerned, this was a very good sign for Shazier in working his way back not just in terms of playing, but also in terms of re-establishing himself as a player who can make a difference on the field with the combination of his football intelligence and his exceptional speed.
I think that, by now, most people do understand the sort of player that Shazier can be. But that does not stop the immense frustration that many feel over the consistent road blocks on his path to being that player on a weekly basis. Injuries have been by far his biggest problem. He made a boast about playing 16 games this year, but was injured by the second game, and has missed three, while playing injured in others.