There are few defensive players in the NFL like Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier. Coming into the 2014 draft, NFL Draft analyst Mike Maydock was quoted saying that Shazier was “one of the fastest linebackers to come out of college football.” While at Ohio State University, Shazier was known for his elite-level speed and his athletic abilities.
In the period of time Shazier has been in the NFL, he has been able to use his athletic abilities to his advantage. From viewing film on Shazier, it is becoming apparent that not only is he the fastest linebacker the NFL, his speed may even rival some of the fastest players that have ever played in the league. His speed and his ability to close the distance in only a few strides is reminiscent of Steelers all-time great Troy Polamalu.
When reviewing his game against the Green Bay Packers, many of the plays that he made were game-saving plays. There were many instances where the Steelers defense left open spaces for the Packers talented running back Jamaal Williams to exploit. As one will see in this film room session, if it had not been for Shazier’s closing speed, the result could have been disastrous.
Shazier Stymies Play Action Pass
In this particular sequence, Packers quarterback Brett Hundley is going to execute this play action pass to Williams to perfection. From the snap, Hundley will sell the handoff to Williams before he rolls out. Note how the Steelers defensive front is dispersed in different areas, giving Hundley the space and time to throw the ball to Williams. What you will also notice is all the open space Williams has to run the ball; realistically, this play should have been a first down.
Shazier is several feet from Williams but anticipates the play as it unfold. As Williams is able to evade the tackle from Steelers cornerback Artie Burns, Williams is unaware that the linebacker is only a few feet behind him. Before Williams is able to run any further, Shazier is able to make the tackle, negating any additional yards. Judging by the angle Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave came from, it would be difficult to assume that Hargrave would have made the tackle on his own; thus Williams would have potentially had a substantial gain on this play.
Shazier Tackle On 3rd Down
Late in the game with the score tied at 28, the Steelers defense was able to force a 3-and-out on this play, courtesy of the speed of Ryan Shazier. From the snap, the Packers offensive line does a good job creating open lanes for Williams to run through, as the ball is handed off to him (note the delay Hundley makes before handing the ball). Shazier is seen in the middle and throughout the entire sequence he had his eye in the backfield. As the play unfolds, he drops back a few feet, then rushes toward the Packers ball carrier. Before Williams can begin to bounce inside for additional yards, Shazier has already closed the distance and makes the play. This play is exemplary of Shazier’s closing speed as he displays his ability to cover ground in a very short period of time.
Shazier Forces Play Out Of Bounds
If there is any play in this game that best exemplified Shazier’s closing speed, it would be seen in this particular sequence. From the snap, the Packers offensive linemen break away from the Steelers defensive front, and Hundley passes Williams the ball, executing the screen pass. The first thing to note is Shazier seen on the bottom the screen. The second thing to note is the angle he takes to get to the ball carrier in order to make a tackle. The last thing to notice is his incredible closing speed. Within a matter of seconds before Williams has the chance to gain any meaningful yards, Shazier has already cut the angle, forcing Williams to smartly run out of bounds.
This type of speed is uncanny for a player over 230 lbs. Another aspect that makes this play impressive to watch was the fact that Steelers linebacker Vince Williams was only a few feet from the Packers running back, yet Shazier still managed to get him before Williams could touch him.
Shazier in many ways exemplifies the new-age prototypical defensive player that NFL teams strive to find in the draft. The rare combination of speed, agility and intelligence is difficult to find. What makes someone like him so special, is the fact that he possesses all these attributes and is able to use them at the highest level. When he is on the field, he is a difference maker, so much in fact that opposing offenses continuously make schemes to neutralize him.
Without him, the Steelers defense loses a sense of identity, predicated on speed and intensity. As the season winds down, the Steelers will need their best player to consistently play at a high level. Shazier throughout this season has proven time and time again that he is capable of being that player, which is why he is an invaluable player on the Steelers defense.