L.J. Fort Making A Difference For Ravens While Costing Steelers

Though they were the first team to really provide him with any kind of meaningful stability, the Pittsburgh Steelers never quite seemed to give inside linebacker L.J. Fort the opportunities that he may have been entitled to based on his level of play. The most egregious misuse of his playing time came in December of 2017 after Ryan Shazier was injured, and they called upon Arthur Moats and Sean Spence before allowing Fort an opportunity to throw his hand into the pile.

Still looking for a replacement for Shazier a year ago, they turned to Jon Bostic in free agency, and then Tyler Matakevich. It took more time still for them to realize that Fort could offer them more in coverage and flexibility, and even then, he didn’t play as extensively as he perhaps should have.

Yet he should enough to earn himself a decent contract from the Philadelphia Eagles. With the moves that they ultimately made—signing Mark Barron in free agency and drafting Devin Bush (and Ulysees Gilbert III)—that was fine by them, because it helped them get a comp pick.

That went out the window when the Eagles released them. And now worse still, he is helping out the Baltimore Ravens. They have already faced Fort once with the Ravens, during which time he played very well on special teams, but he has continued to play a more important role defensively in the weeks that followed.

In fact, he has started during the past couple of games, and either he or Josh Bynes—both signed at the same time following the benching of Kenny Young, whom they traded to the Los Angeles Rams—have been in the lineup with Patrick Onwuasor sidelined. One of them will remain as a starter when he returns, but perhaps both will continue to play.

Against the Seattle Seahawks, a nice win for the Ravens against a team who beat the Steelers, Fort recorded six tackles and a sack, and was an asset to an interior blitz game that Baltimore’s defense has been lacking. Something that he picked up from Keith Butler and Jerry Olsavsky in Pittsburgh.

Onwuasor is expected to return from injury after the bye week, but the Ravens intend to play all three of the linebackers, not dissimilar to the way the Steelers are using Bush, Barron, and Vince Williams. The fact that they found two of the three midseason on the street is almost unfair.

Not that their defense has been particularly amazing this year, to be sure. In fact, even though they are 5-2 on the season, they are having a down year defensively, in the middle of the pack in both points and yards allowed. The run defense has been good—aside from allowing touchdowns—but they’ve also given up the seventh-most passing yards in the league.

Changes were made after they gave up 5oo-plus yards in back-to-back weeks. Fort was a part of that change, and things have been getting better. They’ve also won all three games since then. Not bad for a street pickup.

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