Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier had an impressive debut in week two of the preseason in a performance that raised already high expectations for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first-round draft pick.
Last week’s test against the Philadelphia Eagles saw Shazier come back down to earth a bit, though he did say after the game that stamina became an issue later in the game as he continues to restabilize his fitness level after missing almost two weeks of practice with a knee bruise.
The Eagles’ offense did not allow for the knifing tackles that he had all over the field a week earlier, most often working on the perimeter. When they did attack inside, Shazier had issues getting off blocks.
The more athletic and aggressive tight ends also posed a problem for the rookie in comparison to his debut performance. But I also became aware of Shazier more frequently being told what to do and where to go pre-snap last week, perhaps as a side effect of the Eagles’ fast-paced approach combined with his inexperience.
With that said, here is a look at some of the key plays of Shazier’s night against Nick Foles and the Eagles.
On this carry early in the game, Shazier was shadowing running back LeSean McCoy, as he frequently did throughout the game. As he moved to intercept the running, the pulling center Jason Kelce was able to get in front of the linebacker, and McCoy was able to step through his tackle attempt for a big gain.
Early in the second quarter, Shazier was covering the athletic Zach Ertz on a third and eight play. Shazier failed to anticipate that the tight end would be playing the sticks, so as Ertz stopped and turned at the first-down marker, he was able to create separation and make the reception for 12 yards.
In the third quarter, facing the Eagles’ second-string offense, Shazier continued to fulfill his primary assignments, which consisted of covering tight ends and shadowing running backs.
He drew running back Matthew Tucker on this play, and he did an excellent job of playing off his man, reading his body to anticipate the throw. What ensued was a collision at the intersection of man and ball, and the end result was an incompletion. As a matter of fact, he nearly held on to the ball for an interception.
The last series for the first-team defense was nearly a short one, were it not for Shazier getting beat for a 25-yard reception on third and four. But when you look at the play, it’s difficult to fault him too much.
Tight end Trey Burton and quarterback Mark Sanchez played their parts on this play nearly perfectly. The ball was well-placed between the linebacker and Cortez Allen, and even though Shazier turned around to play the ball, he could not reach the pass with his outstretched hand.
Shazier followed up that disheartening play by missing his second tackle of the night on the next snap as the receiver got a modest stiff arm on him. The game was capped off at the end of that drive with Tucker pounding through Shazier for the Eagles’ fourth touchdown.