Film Room: For Consideration, L.J. Fort

I don’t know exactly what the answer is, but I do know that they haven’t found it yet. The question? How to appropriately adjust for the absence of starting mack inside linebacker Ryan Shazier. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ first swipe at that was not exactly a smashing success.

With Tyler Matakevich sidelined by a shoulder injury, the team used a totem pole—or trench coat full of rugrats—consisting of the newly-signed Sean Spence at the top, Arthur Moats in the middle, and L.J. Fort at the bottom. But maybe it should be Fort at the top this week.

He barely played last week, playing pretty much only on a couple of situational snaps early on (third down, end-of-half stuff), but he did play a couple dozen snaps or so the week prior to that after Matakevich was injured.

I wanted to try to take a look at some of the work of Fort from this past game in his limited snaps, however, as he is a player that has been talked about in the context of having the athleticism to be an effective linebacker in coverage, something that would be important against the Patriots.

He first checked into the game early, getting a snap on third and four for Joe Flacco and the Ravens. Flacco threw an interception on the play, but Fort was in man coverage on the tight end out of the slot. His pursuit of a block on the return is also notable. And it also drew a penalty, but I digress.

Moving all the way ahead into the late fourth quarter, with the Steelers having just taken the lead and the Ravens desperately trying to take it back, Fort nearly sawed wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in half on their first play from scrimmage. He put a hit on the receiver so hard that the number 4 fell off his own helmet. Oh, and it made Maclin drop the ball.

He dropped into middle zone coverage on the next play. As the tight end vacated his zone, he did struggle to cover an in-breaking route by Mike Wallace, on whom he missed a tackle, which helped allow him to pick up a first down.

A couple of plays later—the final play of the game, to be exact—T.J. Watt’s pressure won the game, but Flacco having nobody to throw to helped enable that pressure, and eventual sack. Once he scrambled, Fort, smartly in my estimation, drifted left with him, knowing that he would not be able to throw back across his body with Watt in pursuit.

I think it’s reasonable to wonder if Fort would indeed be the best available option in coverage amongst himself, Spence, Moats, and Matakevich. I’m really not quite sure why he has been as overlooked as he has.

About the Author

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

    You could immediately tell the difference with Fort and Sutton in the game against the Bengals. Not sure why they’re playing around with a rotation. Those are your best guys right now.

  • Intense Camel

    If Fort doesn’t start or at least get a majority of the snaps tonight, I have zero faith in this coaching staff.

  • nitrous12

    What is the weakness in his game that would cause them to limit his playing time so much given the injury situation? Bad against the run?

  • Just like when no one could replace Polumalu, no one can replace Shazier. A lot of people give him crap for missed tackles, but he blew up a lot of plays, even when he missed the ball carrier. That extra second of hesitation allowed the rest of our defense to rally and bring down the man with the ball. With Shazier, you have to take the very good with a side of some bad.

    Now that he’s done for the year, we are not only missing his speed, but his football smarts. Of the three players trying to fulfill Ryan’s job duties, all have pros and cons. Moats, is the veteran of the group, knows the defense and where he’s supposed to be, but can he ge there after the ball is snapped? Fort, he can probably get to where he needs to go, but does he know the defense well enough to get guys lined up correctly and make all the calls? Spence is probably the middle ground but he was on his couch for two months, it will certainly take time for him to get to game speed.

    It is tough, no doubt, Shazier did not come off the field this year, all other players usually get subbed in certain situations. Who is going to be on the field that is a good communicator to get the other ten guys lined up correctly? And in different personnel packages, different players be the play call communicator breaking any shread of defensive consistency.

    I would not want to be one of the guys trying to mask the lost of Shazier. We will see the mettle of this defensive staff and how they rally this team moving forward. I believe they can figure it out, but one thing is for certain, the offense will need to stay on top of their game until a solution is affirmatively in place. And that may not happen until.

  • Steeler Nation!

    This is true. While Fort definitely looks to fit the part the best from an athletic standpoint, the potential communication breakdowns could be what keeps him from playing every snap. Out of the 3, Moats offers the least in terms of playmaking but probably the highest in terms of playbook. It’s a sliding scale, with Spence in the middle on both counts.

  • Thomas

    Well if they put him in on run downs I don’t think it’s possible to be worse in ALL aspects than Spence and Moats were last game and I have no hope of those 2 getting better. With Fort I’ve been optimistic all year.

  • steelmann58

    I always thought I read Fort is one of the better pass coverage lb we had maybe I wrong but like you said worth a shot

  • Intense Camel

    Vince is making the calls.

  • popsiclesticks

    Heck, I was under the assumption that this was why he was on the roster in the first place.

  • MattHat121

    In 2015, Fort spent 2 weeks with NE as a practice squad player. Maybe he had a few reps covering Gronk.

  • Ray Istenes

    Moats is not he answer inside and Fort should know the defense.

    Let him play.

  • Smitty 6788

    After watching how bad Spence and Moats played against the pass and run. I’d play Fort the majority of the snaps he can’t be worse. I’ve never been a Spence fan. Fort at least can run.

  • Kevin78

    I don’t consider that a missed tackle on Wallace. He wasn’t in position to make the tackle. Wallace ran away from him, so he dove after him and didn’t connect. That’s like calling a chase down dive a missed tackle because the guy didn’t catch up.

  • Special teams.

  • 20Stoney

    The one thing that Fort can do that the others can’t is run.

  • Not all of them since comes of the he comes of the field in sub-packages.

  • Intense Camel

    Oh yea

  • Mark

    Along with Gay, I would rather someone point Fort in the right direction and let his speed and athleticism take over. We need him to play fast and make tackles on the Pats RB’s out of the backfield. The Pats love running the wheel route and RBs up the seem. We need a speed LB to stay with them and that is Fort. Full Stop!!

  • nutty32

    LJ was killing it all preseason & outplayed 44, 55, & 98 – let him play.
    Being used as only the pass coverage LB is being set up for failure. That’s a hard job and getting beat is normal. Fan base going to unfairly roast him for failing to do the impossible w/o balancing that out with some run stop opportunities.

  • steelburg

    It’s hard to understand why he can’t get a legitimate opportunity. He has been around too long IMO for use to not know if he is at least a legitimate back up or not. He has been here 2 full years in some capacity either on the 53 or practice squad. He should be either getting a shot to show he is a legitimate back up or he should at least be the special teams caption or something. Let him start and let’s at least see what he can do we don’t have anything to lose IMO.

  • stan

    I agree that Fort should be considered for coverage purposes. I thought he looked unprepared when he first came in against the Bengals though. I saw at least twice that another player had to tell him to move before the play.

  • Petherson Silveira

    Vince can call in Nickel and Base. Then Gay calls it in Dime.

  • Rusted Out

    It’s as simple as that. Even if Spence is familiar with the Steeler’s system, I thought it was a bad move to start him after signing him off the street. Not to mention that Moats was horrendous. He looked completely lost and easily got caught in the wash. Fort filled in admirably against the Bengals, he should be the starter going forward.
    As for Sutton… well if Sensabaugh is in there for any other reason than injury, I’m going to continue to lose chuncks of hair over these personnel choices where they go for familiarity over ability.

  • Zarbor

    Yup. I don’t get it either. Seems like a no-brainer right now. Why in the world would you start Spence over Fort. Dude is not even in game shape.

  • Christopher Saylor

    He’s a very aggressive athlete, but he also misses a lot of gaps and assignments. This is why Mata won out over him in the preseason. L.J. makes for a good highlight when you miss his other less pretty plays.

  • rystorm06

    Yep I won’t blame him for that. He’s fast for a LB, but catching Mike Wallace is another thing. The only LB who would have had a shot of making that tackle would be #50… In either case, that wasn’t a bad play by him at all. His pursuit forced Wallace to re-route straight into 2 other Steeler defenders

  • Reggie Cunningham

    I was never a Spence fan either. I like Fort.

  • Junaid Mahmud

    Before the game, I wasn’t too sure about Fort. Hope he gets the start.

  • Ehrren Lee Phyzeque

    Exactly. Looking at the way they operate you’d think there was some sort of obligation to sign former Steelers. Almost like they’re forced to sign former Steelers or something. Sean Spence had no business starting

  • Ehrren Lee Phyzeque

    Maybe take a look at Brian Allen used more in the Box the way you would use Shazier

  • John Pennington

    The steelers have to draft ILB and up grade that position big time.Spence MOATES wont be there next season and dirty Red cant handle the position to slow so the middle and outside LB will need to be adressed big time.

  • will

    What is happening tonight?