It’s expected now: Ryan Shazier is going to make a big play. He has already shown the ability to take over a football game. We all recall the 2015 Wild Card playoff games vs the Bengals. Shazier forced two fumbles (including the game-saving one that gave the Steelers life) and got a fumble recovery.
What most would agree was “missing” from Shazier’s game was consistency. Much of that may be attributed to his injury history, which has been well documented. Shazier missed 11 of 32 games his first two seasons. He also missed 3 games in 2016. He has played in 8 consecutive games, and it’s been this continuity which has led to Shazier becoming a more complete player.
We’ll start with a play that should look familar to Steelers fans. Here’s Ryan getting in the backfield to tackle Jeremy Hill behind the line:
The Bengals RG (Kevin Zeitler) can’t get to Shazier, as Ryan uses his quickness to dip inside him and take down Hill. The takeaway for me on this play is just how effortless Shazier makes this look. As I said, this is something we’ve come to expect from Shazier, as he is tied for the team lead in TFL (tackles for loss), with 8.
Besides helping to hold the Bengals to a paltry 2.7 YPC on the ground, Shazier was a force in harassing Andy Dalton. He had several pressures on the Bengals’ QB, and notched the lone sack by the Steelers:
Shazier has often been left to be blocked by RB’s in pass protection; a mismatch he has taken advantage of in the past. Here, the Bengals leave TE Tyler Eifert in to pick up the blitz. As we can see, a quick head fake by Shazier left Eifert with nothing left to do but hold him, which still didn’t stop Shazier from taking down Dalton.
Again, Shazier’s quickness is such a weapon, it puts him in position for easy “wins” on defense. Next, however, are a couple plays that I feel, show how Shazier has grown mentally.
This is the first play after Alex Erickson’s 72 yard kickoff return set the Bengals up at the Steelers 26 yard line:
It appears as though the Steelers are in man coverage with FS Mike Mitchell as the deep help. Sean Davis is covering Eifert. It’s difficult to know what Andy Dalton is seeing, but if he recognized man coverage, Dalton would expect to have Eifert open across the middle of the field. He would not expect an underneath defender. Shazier seems to focus on Dalton, watching where the QB sets his eyes. Shazier anticipated the throw, and batted the ball down, almost coming up with an interception.
We’ll look at one more play which, again shows Shazier’s recognition and understanding:
The Steelers are in a zone defense here. As the deeper routes are covered, Dalton looks for a split-second toward Tyler Eifert on the shallow cross. Shazier, however, has jumped up to take away Eifert as an option. At this point, the pressure forces Dalton out of the pocket, where he has no choice but to throw the ball away.
This may seem like an insignificant play. It demonstrates, though, Shazier’s awareness of the entire defense. By understanding what is going on behind him, and how the offense is trying to attack, Shazier is better suited to react in ways that stop it.
The numbers bear it out as well. Shazier has 7 PD (passes defensed) on the season, which already surpasses his 2015 total of 4 PD.
Ryan Shazier was envisioned as a playmaker for the defense when the Steelers selected him in the 1st round of the 2014 draft. He displayed some splash with an interception in his first preseason game as a rookie. Injuries, however, have slowed Shazier’s growth. Missed time, and the learning process that any young player experiences, have combined to limit his early career to what can be described as “hit and miss.”
Shazier’s third season is looking to be his best. Being able to stay on the field has led to him becoming a more well-rounded player. There is still plenty of splash in Ryan Shazier’s game. Now there is far less “miss” and a lot more “hit.”