Earlier in the day, I brought to you an article from Pro Football Focus that saw the website place Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier in the top 10 best performers of the week. I figured it would probably only be fitting to take a look at some of the plays that he carried out that earned him that distinction.
The first of several plays that he made over the course of the game came early in the first quarter, on Cleveland’s opening drive. The Browns were looking to run the ball with Isaiah Crowell when the running back met up with Shazier.
Setting up with an unbalanced line, two tight ends to the right, Shazier immediately took off in that direction off the snap. He did an excellent job of absorbing the block from the inside tight end, essentially bouncing off of him and getting into the backfield, where he dragged the running back down for a loss of two yards.
Many of his highlights came in the second half, however, so I want to move ahead in the game, to early in the third quarter. In the middle of a Browns drive, on third and 10, Shazier dropped in coverage on tight end Gary Barnidge. While an initial Barnidge shove gave him some separation, a poor throw to the inside shoulder and his closing speed allowed Shazier to recover, and he defended the pass.
Cleveland did go for it on fourth and 10 and converted, but they ultimately netted only a field goal. They did get into the end zone on their first drive of the fourth quarter, but not before Shazier and Crowell traded yardage again.
The Browns ran a screen pass play to Crowell on consecutive plays. Shazier made the tackle for a four-yard gain on the first play. On the second time around, he was prepared, and he brought down the running back four yards behind the line, at the original line of scrimmage. This is a view of the first play. On the second, he slid down over the back and was much quicker to shoot out into the flat.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, with Cleveland facing a third and 17, Shazier initially looked to go in on the rush until Barnidge released from the line of scrimmage. The linebacker chased and was able to make the tackle after a five-yard gain. This should have resulted in a punt, but a defensive penalty resulted in an automatic first down instead.
I didn’t even mention the strip sack that produced a defensive touchdown a bit later in the game. I think it says something when you can leave out the biggest play that somebody made in the game and still make the argument that he was a quality performer.
Shazier is a special talent, and the Steelers simply function at a much higher level when he is at the top of his game. In order for the team to salvage this season, they need him to continue to play on this level, and that includes staying healthy.