The Pittsburgh Steelers have had quite a turnaround on the defensive side of the ball over the course of the past four weeks, a transformation that began with the turning point of being dominated by the Cowboys in Heinz Field, including giving up the game-winning touchdown with less than a minute to play.
One of the key players in that turnaround has been inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who, when healthy, has continued to show that he can be a dynamic playmaker, and a future Pro Bowler, if he can ever stay on the field for a long enough period of time.
The third-year man got his work in against the Bills on Sunday, registering seven tackles and a sack, including a handful of stops in the run game. One of those came early in the game, on the opening play of Buffalo’s second drive of the game. Working as the lone man in the middle of the field, he stayed disciplined initially before picking up the cue of the pulling guard, working inside of him, and making the tackle following a gain of just a yard.
Shazier’s sack in the game came at a key point in time against the Bills in the second quarter. After giving up a nine-yard reception on first down the Steelers blitzed both of their inside linebackers—Lawrence Timmons off the left edge, and with Shazier actually technically likely shadowing Tyrod Taylor on the play. When Taylor spotted the tempting running lane, he was hit from behind by Timmons and then finished by Shazier, who stayed with the play despite initially deflecting off the quarterback.
The Bills failed to convert on third down on the following play, but the Steelers offense quickly turned the ball over with an interception that put Buffalo in scoring position. Shazier did his part in trying to stop them from getting into the end zone on first down, taking on the fullback and still making the tackle on the running back to hold him to a gain of one.
Late in the quarter, on a second-and-three play, the speedy linebacker was the first player into the hole, beating the running back there, and the result was the back ending up horizontal and stuffed for no gain.
Unfortunately, all was not positive on the day for Shazier, as he was responsible for a couple of missed tackles, or at least potential tackle attempts. The big one came in the middle of the fourth quarter while he was covering LeSean McCoy from out of the slot. When he tried to come in to tackle the catch, McCoy outmaneuvered him for what ended up being a 41-yard gain.
Of course, that is not typical of Shazier’s performance in coverage this year, nor his overall body of work in that particular game. He is a special talent and a key piece in allowing the Steelers defense to do a lot of what they have done this year.