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.