Over the past two weeks we have dedicated the BTSC Film Room to reviewing the play of inside linebacker Ryan Shazier over the course of the 2015-2016 NFL season. We have reviewed his ability to stop the run, his ability to rush the quarterback and his ability to cover receivers and tight ends in space.
While you might think that is all anyone would ever need from an inside linebacker, Shazier brings something extra to the table as a young rising star on the roster of the Pittsburgh Steelers. When you want to be an elite defensive player for the Steelers, it is often not enough just to be able to do your job to earn the respect that many legends have commanded in their years wearing the black and gold.
You better be able to hit the snot out of your opponent.
In today's NFL, hitting has become a great deal more regulated to protect players which has made many of the legendary hits and styles of play from the Steelers' players of the 1970's all but non-existent. While that is the case, there are still ways within the rules to tee off on players and deliver booming hits that can change the momentum of the game and weaken the resolve of your opponents. Shazier has done that multiple times in his short career as a Steeler thus far, and we highlight some of those plays here.
Forced fumble vs. Oakland Raiders
Shazier displays his ability to accelerate into players after slowing down to square them up often, and this is another example of doing just that. He adjusts to the position of Latavius Murray and puts his helmet squarely on the football to force a fumble. Though safety Mike Mitchell would be ruled out of bounds during his attempt to recover the football, Shazier still creates a major opportunity for Pittsburgh to put the game away with this forced fumble. His style of big hits are a problem for ball carriers across the NFL, but they also pose a problem for anyone else who might be in his way.
Big hit against Bengals lineman on interception return
Head coach Mike Tomlin has preached to his defense about turning offensive once they have forced a turnover. Those teachings were part of the greatest defensive play in the history of the Super Bowl when James Harrison returned an interception one hundred yards for a touchdown.
The Steelers still live by that code, as evidenced here on a Robert Golden interception during the team's week 14 rematch with the Cincinnati Bengals. When Golden intercept the ball, both James Harrison and Ryan Shazier set their sights on knocking the snot out of anyone in Golden's way, both earning pancakes on huge offensive linemen.
These kinds of hits intimidate opponents and teach them to put their heads on a swivel which can lead to easier lanes to run through for Steelers' players (go watch Martavis Bryant's long touchdown against the Cardinals as their defensive backs keep looking for a Steelers' receiver to come with a Hines Ward type hit). Shazier's explosiveness is a problem for anyone, and that adds up over time to be in the fears of his opponents.
That time he took Giovani Bernard's soul
You probably have watched this play 1,000 times by now, but go ahead and watch it over and over with one of the biggest game changers of the Steelers' season. If no other play shows you enough explosiveness on the part of Shazier, this one will, or you're just a Bengals fan still grieving a playoff loss from five months ago.
Shazier is playing back in a zone that allows for the type of short underneath pass that Bernard catches here. Usually this is a safe bet for a quarterback and the running back will be able to protect himself from any big hit, but nothing could have prepared Bernard for the onslaught which Shazier ran through his body. This is a textbook tackle on a fast running back in open space and forced a key fumble to keep the Steelers in control. Had the officials made the correct ruling live, Pittsburgh would have had a touchdown as Shazier scooped up the ball and was jogging with an uncontested path to the end zone.
This hit embodies the idea of the renegade that Shazier is and the renegade that he can become. Having a middle linebacker that will lay down the law for Pittsburgh makes it so that opponents have to fear his presence at any point in time, much like how quarterbacks would always want to know where Troy Polamalu lined up during his prime.
Shazier going for an All Pro season
Shazier only played twelve games in 2015 due to injuries, but at times he was the guy that stole the show. In the team's home opener, Shazier recorded 11 tackles with four assists, a sack, a forced fumble and recovered a fumble. In some of the biggest games of the season he stood up to make key plays to keep the Steelers' campaign alive, like his interception against the Broncos or both of his forced fumbles against the Bengals in the playoffs.
All this has happened and he has only played two seasons in the NFL and just had his first with defensive coordinator Keith Butler. There is a lot to like with the young star from Ohio State, and pretty soon he could be the leader of Pittsburgh's youth movement and the biggest threat that puts fear in the hearts of offenses across the NFL.