Steelers vs Giants Film Review: Shamarko Thomas

Earlier this offseason, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake told reporters that the plan for this season was to try to keep second-year defensive back Shamarko Thomas at his natural position of strong safety.

But if he continues to play with the instincts and explosiveness that he showed a week ago against the New York Giants, then I might be inclined to ask the coaching staff to reconsider that strategy to get him on the field.

Like linebacker Sean Spence, “Shark” really seems to have the vision and awareness to play this game with high mental acuity. Their see-to-do and intuition of plays would seem only to be bested by one of the greatest of all time in that department, Troy Polamalu, to whom Thomas is an apprentice. And the young man has proven to be a worthy study.

With the Steelers in their base package facing a 21 personnel package, Thomas here is shaded just 10 yards off the ball, anticipating a run, which he got. He headed forward soon after the snap, and when Josh Mauro helped seal the left-side gap, Thomas was there, cutting inside to meet and bring down running back Andre Williams in the opposite hole. The drive stalled after an incomplete pass on the next play.

Later on in the second quarter, in base defense facing 11 personnel with a bunched set on the right side of the formation, Thomas again walked up into the box. He snuffed out the hole that Williams was running through and was again the first responder to the scene, though bringing down the back proved to be a group project.

Later in the drive, with the Steelers in their nickel package to counter the Giants’ spread formation, Thomas dropped deep off the ball this time, but quickly read the running back screen. He shot into the frame like a dagger and lowered the helmet to bring down Kendall Gaskins after a short gain on second and long. This play really shows you why his nickname is “Headache”. He’s given himself concussions in the past. Reckless abandon for his own safety.

His most impressive play of the night came on the Giants’ first possession of the second half, when he blew up get another screen to Gaskins for a loss of three. It was a very similar play as before, with the Steelers’ nickel defense countering New York’s three-receiver set, and Thomas backed off well behind the line of scrimmage.

You can see Thomas shoot into the frame even before the quarterback has his arm fully cocked back. Thomas must be reading his tendencies because he once again snuffed out the running back screen and knifed right through Gaskins in the backfield in a spectacular collision. The second-year safety was absolutely right to take some small satisfaction at the end of this play. The pump fake didn’t hurt either.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • JAMESH

    Mitchell seems pedestrian at best. Can Troy and Thomas be used together?

  • Josh Knepshield

    Please tell me how he seems pedestrian at best.

  • Jason

    He seemed pedestrian when both Cortez Allen and William Gay _ran away_ from him while trying to chase down the Giants RB. I thought he was supposed to be a speed upgrade from Ryan Clark. I hope that play was an aberration, because he looked slower than Clark on that one.

  • superfan

    Man, that’s a little quick to write off Mitchell as “pedestrian.” The dude created 6 turnovers and had 3.5 sacks last year. That’s excellent for a safety. (Ryan Clark has 3.5 sacks in his 10+ year career)

  • Jason

    I should add that I don’t agree that he seems pedestrian “at best.” I doubt the play in question was his “best.” I hope we’ve already seen his worst.

  • steeltown

    He just returned to action, he was removed from the PUP list like 4-5 days before this game. I chalk it up to not being completely in in-game speed

  • steeltown

    Guys like Shark, Spence and Shazier have me pretty excited

  • Jason

    I hope you’re right!

  • ApexSteel

    One preseason game and you’re already looking for his replacement?

  • walter mason

    Goodell should like the way he hits low.

  • Michael Stover

    But we didn’t need to spend $5 mil/year for him when we have Shark, Golden, and Allen. Was kind of a waste of money and the lack of play is going to delay Shark’s progress.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Yeah, Dwyer would do that too. I believe it’s *supposed* to be a penalty, but I rarely see it called.

  • Asmitty56

    probably because Shark is a SS not a FS, even though he can play at FS it’s certainly not his strength.

  • Michael Stover

    Not so great a difference between the two spots. The Steelers ask both their safeties to be physical, to play hard against the run. The main difference is the FS is usually the last man against big plays, and that’s a mental thing. From all I can see, Shark has plenty of intelligence for the role.

  • Lucus Rodriguez

    He probably just isn’t in the greatest shape yet. Running at FULL speed takes full energy.

  • JAMESH

    Especially now after two games.

  • JAMESH

    Now after two games, do you think he is closer to being a Hall of Famer or simply pedestrian?

  • ApexSteel

    I think it’s hilarious that you think yesterday proved something. The worst thing he did was get a taunting penalty. He did fill the alley and make a great tackle, but we can pretend he’s bad for your sake I guess

  • Josh Knepshield

    What kind of question is that? Who said he was a Hall of Fame caliber player? Aside from taking a bad angle on the long TD run (and a few penalties), I have seen nothing to suggest he is mediocre or pedestrian. Remember Ryan Clark was not great when he first signed with the Steelers in 2006.

  • Josh Knepshield

    These guys are ridiculous. The Steelers would not have given this guy 5Mil a year if they didn’t have a plan on how to use him effectively. Thru 2 games, there have been a few negatives, but NOTHING to suggest he needs replaced.

  • ApexSteel

    They don’t understand football and how learning a new defense works. You don’t always come right in and have 3 picks, 12 tackles, and a sack. Things take time.

  • JAMESH

    All I have said is he has shown nothing so far to think he falls anywhere outside of the “average” category.

  • JAMESH

    The same Steelers who drafted Landry Jones? All my initial comment stated was that he has shown nothing so far to believe he falls anywhere outside of the “average” category.

  • ApexSteel

    “Mitchell seems pedestrian at best. Can Troy and Thomas be used together?” Average implies that he gets the job done adequately at worst. That last part of your first post implies that you think there should be a change in the starting line-up. A team wouldn’t bench a player who they paid 5 mil a year to after two “average” preseason games.

  • ApexSteel

    Shark is the SS after Polamalu retires, Will Allen isn’t starting caliber, nor is Golden. We know that Shamarko wouldn’t be bad at FS now, but he doesn’t have the range or experience that Mike Mitchell has and next year we’d be drafting a Strong Safety in the first round. Not to mention Shamarko will still play nickelback.

  • Josh Knepshield

    Thru 2 games, there have been a few negatives, but NOTHING to suggest he needs replaced. Ryan Clark was not great when the steelers first signed him in 2006.

  • JAMESH

    After two regular season games……….. yes.

  • JAMESH

    Please tell me how you see him as anything but average.

  • JAMESH

    A little more time has passed and I still see him as nothing but average.

  • JAMESH

    Never said he was bad, only said he is pedestrian at best. Recognizing talent is a talent unto itself.

  • ApexSteel

    I have had this conversation with way too many people on this site. I don’t understand what impact you expect a cover 3 Free safety to make when there’s no pressure up front. But what

  • JAMESH

    No….. the Steelers’ woes are not his fault. But so far, he has shown himself to be pedestrian at best.

  • ApexSteel

    The pass defense is ranked 9th, there have been few deep balls completed, and he’s no.4 in tackles on the team and he’s supposed to be one of the last lines of defense. In cover 3 with little to no pressure up front I ask again. What more do you want?

  • JAMESH

    I’m wondering what you want…….. While some early on were already putting him in the same category as Reed/Polamalu, all I said is that to date he has looked pedestrian at best and mused upon starting Shamarko in his place. I never implied he was the slightest bit bad let alone awful. I simply stated that to date, he has been nothing but pedestrian. (And I am well aware that could change at any time) What more do you want?

  • ApexSteel

    You’re acting like I brought this back up to you. You’re the one who brought this discussion up and posted two replies after it was dead for a month. What are you even talking about?

  • Josh Knepshield

    Please tell me how you came up with this definite answer 2 weeks into the season and playing a total of 4 quarters in the pre-season? That is NOT enough time to get a definite read on a player, so stfu.