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What can Damontae Kazee add to the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers?

The Steelers added another safety after the 2022 NFL draft, but what does he add the the seconday?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers did not draft a safety in the 2022 NFL draft. Instead, the Steelers signed free agent safety Damontae Kazee, formerly of the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys. So what does Kazee bring to the Steelers secondary? This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.


The Stats Line:

In five seasons in the NFL after being a fifth-round selection of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2017 NFL draft, Damontae Kazee has appeared in 69 regular season games while getting 49 starts. After starting a combined 29 games in 2018 and 2019 for the Falcons, Kazee started the first four games of 2020 before he was lost for the season with an Achilles injury. During his time in Atlanta, Kazee had 10 interceptions, including an NFL-leading 7 in 2018, 13 passes defensed, five forced fumbles, and 199 tackles. Casey also had a forced fumble and three tackles in two playoff games for Atlanta in 2017 although he was not a starter.

In 2021 when Casey teamed up with his former head coach and current Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, he started 15 of 17 games for Dallas. With two interceptions and four pass defensed, Kazee also had two forced fumbles and 52 tackles. Kazee also added eight tackles in the Cowboy’s playoff game in 2021.

When it comes to the advanced statistics, Kazee gave up 52% of his completions according to Pro Football Reference. Being targeted 25 times, quarterbacks had 13 completions for 205 yards against Kazee. Of those 13 completions, four of them were for touchdowns.

When it came to his time in Atlanta, Kazee gave up four touchdowns in 2018 but only one in 2019 despite giving up a higher completion percentage of 65.1% versus 53.3% the previous season. Only playing four games in 2020, Kazee was only targeted four times for three completions and no touchdowns.

While the numbers tell a good part of the story, the film will be able to break down what Damontae Kazee brings to the Steelers even more.


The Film Line:

Demontae Kazee is a coverage specialist, not that his tackling or run support is a weakness (we’ll cover that last), but he’s most dangerous as a zone defender. That’s why he’s a safety.

Cowboys vs. Chargers

Demontae Kazee is the safety to the top of the screen (standing on the goal line).

The receiver slips on this play, but even if he hadn’t, this throw was in trouble. Kazee shows good zone sense here, covering the inside route while keeping his eyes on the quarterback so he can see where the throw is going. He easily reverses course and is in position to cut off the pass for an interception in the end zone.

His ability to make plays on the ball and secure interceptions makes him dangerous, and that danger shows up in the respect opposing quarterbacks give Kazee when he is in coverage. When you combine that respect with good positioning, you have an effective deep safety.

Cowboys vs. Chargers

Demontae Kazee is the deep safety.

Kazee doesn’t commit to defending one half of the field until Justin Herbert commits to his throw. His presence is enough to convince Herbert to test Trevon Diggs instead of going deep, and Diggs makes the play for an interception.

If you look at when the ball arrives at the target, and look back at Kazee, you can see he was well within his range of making a play had Herbert tested him deep.

Cowboys vs. Chargers

Demontae Kazee is the deep safety.

There’s a lot of good coverage on this play, but watch how Kazee reads and inserts himself into the most important zones, and Herbert ends up taking a sack for a big loss.

That’s three drives in scoring position that resulted in three total points for the Chargers in a 20-17 Cowboys win. Demontae Kazee played a role in all three with his deep zone coverage.

Mostly Demontae Kazee was used in that deep coverage safety role, but against some offenses that are more short-pass focused, the Cowboys moved him up into short zones, especially when the opponent spread the field to attack on short routes.

Cowboys vs. Saints

Demontae Kazee is the safety to the top of the screen (moves to shorter coverage with the snap).

Kazee covers a lot of ground on these plays, and he almost gets to this pass even though he was covering the running back.

Cowboys vs. Saints

Demontae Kazee is to the bottom of the screen, walking forward at the snap.

I love how fluidly he moves and how effortlessly he covers ground on this play. An ill-advised and inaccurate throw, but that throw comes from a quarterback not respecting Kazee’s awareness and mobility.

Lastly, Demontae Kazee is undersized for a safety, he’s listed at 5’11” and 174 lbs. But that doesn’t mean he can’t tackle. In fact, he’s quite good attacking the line of scrimmage, even if it isn’t a role you would want him to take on regularly.

Cowboys vs. Saints

Demontae Kazee is the safety to the bottom of the screen.

With the edge rushing and the corner following the slant inside, the Saints think they have a back open in the flat. But Kazee is already there when the ball arrives and that play isn’t gaining much of anything. Look at the ground Kazee covers there, that’s impressive.

Cowboys vs. Saints

Demontae Kazee is the deep safety.

You don’t want Demontae Kazee being your leading tackler, but he is a willing participant and he gets to the ball quickly.

Kazee over the season showed all the tools you want from a free safety. He’s not a star at all, but I can tell you it isn’t easy finding film of him being tested by quarterbacks. Mostly they avoided throwing his way. Not on the level of Minkah Fitzpatrick, but it was legit.

Perhaps the most impressive game for Kazee all season was against Kansas City, when the Cowboys took him out of the starting line-up and he only played a few snaps early in the game. By the time the Cowboys put him in for real, the Chiefs had scored 16 points on their first three drives. They would score three points the rest of the game, and didn’t complete a deep pass when Kazee was on the field. It stood out on film that the Chiefs moved the ball effectively when he was off the field, and their offense dried up when he came back in. It wasn’t him making plays either, there wasn’t a single play I even considered using from that game, they just avoided deep throws when he was in, and the offense dried up.


The Point:

The Steelers will find a use for a deep zone coverage specialist like Demontae Kazee. He’s not as talented as Minkah Fitzpatrick, but he’s a more natural centerfielder than Fitzpatrick is, and that should let the Steelers do more with Fitzpatrick while still having an interception threat in deep coverage. It should also allow Terrell Edmunds to more around more and play to his strengths in man coverage and in the box.

While we can’t really predict exactly how the team of Mike Tomlin, Teryl Austin, and Brian Flores will evolve the defense in 2022, I think it is a safe bet that Demontae Kazee’s deep coverage skills will play a role in shaping what the Steelers defense is capable of doing.