When Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams suffered an injury late in the team’s loss on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, he was replaced by veteran L.J. Fort. He ended up playing only about a dozen snaps, but he played well.
Many have been wondering why he hasn’t been the next man up, especially last season after Ryan Shazier’s injury. I still don’t have a good answer. As of now, it still doesn’t sound like he will be, as Tyler Matakevich and Matthew Thomas took first-team reps in practice yesterday.
But I digress. Let’s go back to Sunday’s game, where all the action pretty much takes place in the last five minutes. Admittedly, the game was largely decided at this point and the Ravens were playing more conservatively, but there is still tape to evaluate.
On a first-and-10 play at the Steelers’ 13-yard line, Fort played off the edge on the defensive right side with Lamar Jackson at quarterback as a possible running threat, as he had already done several times. While being mindful of that, he read the play to make the tackle for a three-yard gain, with the fullback advancing beyond him and requiring him to chase the play from behind.
The following play after that, he drew coverage assignment on the running back out of the backfield, drifting out into the flat. Joe Flacco looked his way, but Fort got over to the right sideline quickly to take away the easy throw and forced him to look in another direction, the pass ultimately incomplete.
Later, the Ravens again in the red zone after an interception, they ran the ball on first down from the 16. Fort read the play well, meeting the pulling guard and getting under his shoulder pads to tackle the running back, who only managed to drag himself forward for a yard.
Then on second down, he scraped over from the back side of the play to make the tackle in the backfield for a loss of a yard. He only played 11 snaps, but recorded three tackles, all for stops, one of which went for a loss of yardage.
I honestly don’t know what Fort has not been given more opportunities to play when injuries have occurred even while the coaching staff talks up his athleticism and ability to play in coverage. He has been around the team longer than any inside linebacker short of Williams.
Yet Matakevich sounds like he would come on the field first on Sunday if Williams were unable to go or to finish the game. While I have no problem if Thomas gets an opportunity to play, it would be disappointing if Matakevich is ahead of Fort again, even at Williams’ spot after he competed to start next to him in the summer.