Ryan Shazier didn’t play too long for the Pittsburgh Steelers last night, but then again…he didn’t have to. When your last play of the game is a nifty interception baiting the quarterback into throwing to what appears to be open space, it’s kind of a mic drop for a Pro Bowl starter in the preseason. It was his fifth game with an interception in his past six played.
That’s not to say that he had the look of a Pro Bowler throughout the game. He played about 15 or so snaps over the course of two drives, and the only other statistic that he registered outside of the interception was one tackle. He also missed on a tackle in the backfield early on in the game.
But after Shazier suffered an early hamstring injury in training camp, it should not exactly be surprising if he might appear a bit rusty, because really, he is. He even acknowledged going back to the end of the week before last, when he finally returned to practice, that he felt he was a bit behind.
On his first snap of the game, he bit on the play action and ended up stumbling to the ground as he expected to take on a lead block of a tight end who instead was just trying to work up the field to go out for a pass. The failed coverage behind him, however, was not his fault.
There wasn’t much for him to do assignment-wise on the final four plays of that possession, starting with a first and goal from the nine, and ultimately ending up with first and goal from the one following a penalty for pass interference on third down. On that final play, Shazier was playing edge defense on a run up the gut in the Steelers’ goal line defense.
On the first play of his second drive, the Pro Bowler did an excellent job of blanketing the tight end over the middle of the field. With nobody open, this eventually forced the quarterback to scramble, and it was Shazier bringing him down after six yards—his lone tackle in the game.
It was on the next play that he rushed the right-side B gap hoping to make an impact play in the backfield against the run, but the running back was quick to spot him and juked out of his way, cutting to the left. If he were able to stay on his feet, perhaps he could have still had a chase-down tackle here.
A few players later on the drive, Shazier was able to work off the block of the left tackle on a screen pass to the left, but the left tackle stepped through his tackle attempt. But he got the last laugh two plays later.
Pre-snap, both Shazier and Jordan Dangerfield were pointing to the tight end in the right slot, indicating that he needs to be covered. The linebacker initially drifted the opposite direction after the snap, tempting the quarterback to go to the tight end—where he found number 50 soon running the other way.