Ziggy Hood could be on verge of breakout year

Streeter Lecka

Evander "Ziggy" Hood was the Pittsburgh's first round pick in 2009. Having to replace a Steelers legend, Hood has on the whole been a disappointment despite starting 39 regular season games. Now in the final year of his rookie contract there are still many questions of the type of player he can become. Looking back at last year should give the best estimate on whether 2013 is finally the year Ziggy Hood will become the player Pittsburgh had hope he would be.

When merely glancing at the statistics it becomes obvious that the 2012 season for Ziggy Hood was one filled once again with mediocrity and sloppy play. As the season progressed however, Hood began to gradually improve. One measure of this is his grade via Pro Football Focus. Hood did not receive a single positive grade in the first eight games of the season. In the last eight games of the season Hood received a positive grade from Pro Football Focus in all but two of the games. While that is a nice way of noticing Hood's improvement it doesn't quite tell the whole story. Looking at the statistics for the last four games of the season compared to the first twelve, one can see just how much improvement Hood displayed.

Week 14: San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers

Against the Chargers, Ziggy Hood had his best game of the season. Hood played 66 total snaps against the Chargers, 30 against the run, 35 as a pass rusher and one dropping in coverage. In his 30 plays against the run Hood had five solo tackles, and three more assisted tackles for a total of eight combined tackles. In his 35 plays as a pass rusher he notched one sack and one batted pass. In total he accounted for four stops in the game. (A stop according to PFF was any solo tackle or sack that leads to an offensive failure.) In the game Hood abused the Chargers RT Reggie Wells in the run game. As a pass rusher he did improve somewhat there still left a lot to be desired.

Week 15: Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys

Against the Cowboys Hood had 37 pass rushing snaps but could only muster a single hurry. He did however play better against the run. On his 20 plays against the run he put up four solo tackles and one assisted tackle for a combined total of five. However unlike his stats against the Chargers these stats are misleading as Hood only was credited with one stop of his four solo tackles. This meant that the rest of his tackles came after being pushed back from his spot on the line of scrimmage.

Week 16: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

When the Bengals played the Steelers in Week 16 the talk of the game was how the Steelers rookie guard struggled but there was little mention of Kevin Zeitler struggled. While the stats are a bit miss leading only crediting Hood with a single solo tackle which was a stop and an assisted tackle, Hood dominated Zeitler in his 14 snaps against the run. The defense as a whole kept the Bengals to under a one yard per carry and the Bengals starting RB Green-Ellis never had a run of greater than five yards. Ziggy Hood was also able to take advantage of the rookies' raw lapses in pass protection. On his 42 plays as a pass rusher Hood was credited with three pressures.

Week 17: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers defensive line had resurgence in Week 17 against the Browns. While the star of the game was Cameron Heyward, his fellow defensive end Ziggy Hood also had a nice game. Once again however Hood look good in the run game but below average as a pass rusher. In 35 pass rushing snaps, Hood could only muster a single pressure. He did however put up four individual tackles and an assisted tackle for total of five tackles on the day. Of his four solo tackle, two were also credited as being a stop.

It may be hard to see from just the description of the last four games but when put in a table it is easy to see Hood's improvement.

Run Snaps

Pass Snaps

Solo Tackles

Combine Tackles

Pressures

Stops

Snaps/Pres.

Snaps/Stop

Non-sack Stops/ Solo Tackles

Weeks 1- 13

244

346

14

23

8

10

43.25

59

0.57

Weeks 14-17

89

149

11

19

6

8

24.83

29.75

0.63

In just the last four games Hood nearly matched his entire season's worth of production from Weeks 1-13. While still being below average as a pass rusher he did manage to increase its ability to get pressure. He dropped his number of snaps per pressure down 40 percent and nearly doubled his rate of stops. The question was asked whether Hood's increase in tackles was actually from better quality play or because opposing offenses ran straight at him. The answer to that question is a little of both. Hood was ran at more often than usual but his rate of non-sack Stops (which indicate an offensive failure on a run play) to solo tackles actually increased to the point where over 60 percent of his solo tackles were defensive stops. One final way to measure his improved play is to look at his PFF grade. Ziggy Hood's average grade for the first twelve games was a -1.3 however, his average grade for the last four games was a +1.3 or slightly above average. His biggest jump was in his run defense grade where he average -0.33 grade in the first twelve games but a +2.125 in the last four games. This helps confirm that Hood improved from a slightly below average run defender to a fairly good run defender over the course of the season.

No one is going to confuse Ziggy Hood with J.J. Watt or even for a pass rusher. That isn't his strong suit as a 3-4 defensive end. Lucky for him the Steelers defense focuses on the ability to stop the run first and foremost. Hood and the coaching staff understands his deficiencies as a pass rusher and just like last year he has released a workout video this time emphasizing lateral agility and explosion in his workouts, likely to improve his play as a pass rusher. If Hood can continue his this new trend of above average play against the run while continuing to be just below average as a pass rusher or better, he might be in for his best year yet. On a team that values consistency and defensive continuity this could mean Hood will be offered a contract for his improvement. This will only benefit the Steelers who will see long time defensive end Brett Keisel's contract expire after this season. The hopes would be that Hood finally puts it together and Heyward who has shown flashes then takes over for Keisel in 2014.

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