Is This A Make-or-Break Season For Ziggy Hood?

By Cian Fahey

Since being drafted in 2009, Ziggy Hood has played substantial snaps for the Pittsburgh Steelers and been a starter at defensive end for the majority of the past two seasons. During the three seasons that Hood has been with the Steelers, the defense has ranked first in the league in points allowed twice.

When Hood first became a starter, in 2010, the Steelers run defense was historically good. While the San Francisco 49ers had a great run defense last season, the season before the Steelers only gave up 62.8 yards per game on the ground. To put that in context, the second closest team that year were the Chicago Bears who gave up 90 yards per game and the 49ers gave up 77.2 last season.

The question remains however whether Hood was a key performer for the Steelers, or a passenger who was benefiting from the ludicrously talented front seven around him.

Without Casey Hampton early this year, and Brett Keisel adding another season to his resume as the lone veteran defensive end, the Steelers will likely rely on Hood more this year. The primary responsibility for Hood playing in the Steelers\’ scheme is to consume blockers and shut down the running game.

Often this is something that is difficult to properly evaluate, but the success of the team as a whole and the linebackers in particular reflects the success of the defensive line. Judging Hood by the success of the Steelers\’ defense and their linebackers, he is a star. However, if you go by Pro Football Focus\’ reviews, Hood is one of the worst defensive linemen in the NFL.

Hood had the second lowest stop percentage of all 3-4 ends in 2011, after having the lowest in 2010.

Even though he has extensive experience on the field at this stage, Hood still believes that he is learning the position which obviously would affect his role. The 25-year-old recently said of the 2011 season, “I think I learned a lot from the playbook. I learned a lot more about my position. It\’s an ongoing process. From the first day, I am constantly learning and getting more confident in my abilities. Ultimately, as I\’m more confident, I\’m able to do more. I think it will show on the field.”

Hood\’s approach this off-season should see major changes on the field also as his workouts and transformation has been well documented. Hood believes that he has added 20 lbs of muscle, while losing 18 lbs of fat this off-season, generally the body doesn\’t work that way, but regardless his recognition of his need to get in better shape somewhat acknowledges his previous performances on the field.

Being a workout warrior isn\’t uncommon in the NFL, nor is it massively beneficial. It does help that Hood has bulked up and looked to add greater girth and power, but it won\’t solely turn him into a star defensive end.

Hood has done more than enough during his short stint in Pittsburgh so far that he is all but guaranteed his roster spot, that is not under threat, but he is entering his fourth season in the league this year. He is essentially a veteran. Hood needs to prove to the Steelers that he can be a leading defensive end for this team, a team which is used to high quality play from their ends, or they may need to contemplate investing high draft picks in the position once again.

If Hood can be a dominant player against the run, then he will be a great asset to the Steelers defense. Even though it is not a priority, Hood also doesn\’t offer much in the ways of a pass rush. He had 1.5 sacks last season as part of 5.5 for his career. The potential is there for him to be as disruptive as a Keisel or Aaron Smith, but he needs to have a Lawrence Timmons type of breakout year to make people forget about his early struggles. Timmons shared some of Hood\’s early struggles when he had an inconsistent first season as a starter at inside linebacker, but he overcame those issues to become a key player for the Steelers defense.

Those early struggles have largely gone unnoticed to this point, but the further the team moves away from the Hampton, Keisel and Smith era, the more Hood\’s performances will come into focus.

Follow Cian on Twitter at @Cianaf

  • Who’s writing this stuff he has lot of talent around him I say no just do his job.

  • Blitzman67

    Hood has been just fine. Hampton, Kiesel have missed lots of games over the last few years and the Defense has been good.

  • Daveb1952

    Putting him next to three tackle a game Woodley is not an optimal paring IMO

  • Kad964

    I don’t care about the Pro Football Focus #. When we switched from A. Smith to Hood, Woodley’s numbers went thru the roof. I don’t know if they know what they are looking at.

  • Jefferson St. Joe

    Hood has been pretty damn good and has the right attitude to get better. He’s absolutely not going anywhere and will be among the leaders of the next generation of this defense.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I must be the minority here…I feel he has not lived up to his 1st round billing and that Heyward has a good chance of taking his job…Hood hasnt been awful but he isnt even good IMO.

  • SteelSpine

    You are correct about Hood.

    I (& I assume you, based on your assessment of Hood) base it on what he’s done on the field. I’ve pulled for Hood since he was drafted & I still do, but I’m not gonna blindly say Hood has been good just-because I want him to be good.

    Having a 1st round pick is so valuable, Steelers have alot invested counting on Hood & it appears he has one more season to indicate that he was worth it. Anyone pointing out a 3-4 end’s job is to just be a blocking dummy anyway & not have stats is right but the McClendon’s have done at-least as well as Hood at that & they didnt cost us any high draftpick.

  • Ahmad

    He’s done a fine job but he can do better. Still, it’s not a make or break season for him yet.

  • Shannon Stephenson


  • zekemowat

    I have never heard of Pro Football Focus but I am sure I can find someone who says Hoods pretty good. That would be John Mitchell. His opinion matters most

  • PoKey21

    How can a Steelers Player in his 4th year be make or break. Our rookies and young guys that are worth sht dont even get to see the field for 2 years. Granted Hood got thrown to the wolves early but hes still real young. Next year will be make or break barring injury this year. Hopefully that wont even be a discussion after this season though.