It’s not always easy to assign responsibilities, and thus credit or blame, to specific players when it comes to coverages. For one thing, it’s often difficult to distinguish what type of coverage is being used, and even within coverages, responsibilities can vary.
So it’s not so simple just read up on some website about coverage statistics, especially for an inside linebacker, to really get a feel for what type of player he is in coverage. That is why I did a film session on Ryan Shazier and his coverage looks from last Sunday, because sometimes you have to see to make sense of it.
The proof is in the pudding when it comes to talking about the strides that the fourth-year linebacker has made in coverage over the years for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it’s something that he recognizes in himself. Now, he says, “I try to make a play every play”. And it’s not hard to believe, looking at the clips from the above article.
Including three postseason games, Shazier has five interceptions and another nine passes defensed over the span of his past nine games played, which is not ordinarily the sort of numbers that you would expect an inside linebacker—especially in a 3-4 defense—to put up.
So how has he made this transition, becoming such an effective player in coverage? He told Jeremy Fowler that he started talking to the people who have more experience in coverage than anybody else: the defensive backs.
“I started asking DBs questions about things”, he told the ESPN reporter. “We just talk about the route concepts, getting a better idea what the team likes to do in the passing game instead of [just] knowing what they are doing in the running game”.
He said that that knowledge—largely credited to discussions with veterans William Gay and Mike Mitchell—”gave me a bigger perspective of what certain formations they might run, allows me to be in better position”.
He said that he has become better versed in the intricacies of both zone and man coverage, claiming that he can do both equally well, and chalked up a lot of pass coverage to “the quarterback trying to bait you”.
“You might be trying to read them off, and they are trying to read you off”, he told Fowler. “It’s a chess match. You just have to be where you need to be. You have to know your zone, know your area, respect the defense. If you stay where [you’re] supposed to stay, sometimes that allows you to make plays”.
That he has done, and especially so in the last game, when he was credited with an interception and four passes defensed, one of which led to another interception. He is well on his way to another Pro Bowl season, with health possibly the only obstacle in his way. And his growth in coverage is taking his play to an entirely new level.