Courtesy of Pro Football Focus via Dave Bryan, we brought you an interesting statistic yesterday about Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier. According to the website’s charting, on running plays on which Shazier was the first defender to make contact, the defense held opposing runners to the fewest yards after contact in the league.
This is quite an interesting and arguably surprising statistic for reasons that Dave didn’t really touch on that I was hoping to do myself, so I’m thankful that he did not. You see, while Shazier is known for several different aspects of his play, one of them is a tendency to miss tackles.
But as this statistic indicates, those missed tackles are not as much of a burden as it may seem. Now, that is not to say that he doesn’t need to work on finishing plays better, but this statistic is pretty telling when it comes to one specific type of missed tackle that is frequent in his tape.
Specifically, Shazier ends up missing a lot of tackles simply because of his superior speed and diagnostic abilities. He gets to positions on the field that virtually no other linebacker in the league is able to, but they tend to be low-probability positions.
To give a hypothetical example, there could be an instance in which the inside linebacker is able to sniff out a run headed for the right-side B-gap. He gets there and shoots the gap, getting a piece of the running back behind the line of scrimmage, but he is not in a good enough position to actually bring him down.
What this does accomplish, however, is stalling the runner, and this allows the rest of the defense to swarm and make the play. It is for this reason that Shazier’s missed tackles are not quite as big of an issue as it might seem on the surface.
And again, that is not to say that it’s not an issue. There are a lot of missed tackles that will not show up as a factor in this statistic because either he was not the first defender to make contact or because it occurred on a passing down. There are definitely plays in which a missed tackle by him led to big gains.
But in the end, this really is an interesting Steelers statistic, and not just a Shazier statistic, because it’s obviously not just about Shazier. The statistic talks specifically about players making first contact, not necessarily making the tackle themselves.
So this means that when Shazier is highly active and getting to ball-carriers, the defense is doing really well and limiting the offense very well from the point of contact. There’s really no way to paint this into a negative.
In the end, this may well be just a long-winded way of saying that Shazier should in no way alter his approach. If he has opportunities to come in under more control and make the play himself, then by all means, do that. But simply creating the chaos that he does is an important element of this defense.