If you want to know who will be stepping for Ryan Shazier, the answer may be everybody
Ryan Shazier left the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 13 win with a back injury that will sideline him for this weeks game. There is no timetable at all for his return as we all just continue to hope for good news given the nature of his injury. The game must go on, though.
The Steelers have no one to fill the shoes of Shazier. He is their defensive leader. Shakier is the freelancer who can make plays at any given moment. Vince Williams will step into a more prominent role, but he has a limitation to his play. Beside Williams, the Steelers have options.
Option One: Tyler Matakevich
Matakevich was the first one to see the field when Shazier went down. He struggled mightily when thrown into the fire giving up a couple of receptions and missing a few gaps against the run. Of course, he did not finish the game either, leaving with a shoulder injury. The injury has sidelined him for practice on Wednesday. Given how frantic he looked at times, and the limited practice time that he will have for a division game, it is tough to expect that Matakevich will play.
Option Two: L.J. Fort
Fort is the next man up in order of the depth chart and he will likely get the start on Sunday. Fort has been on and off the team but has always shown gap discipline and has always been a solid special teams player. He played in 17 defensive snaps on Monday to bring his season total to 22. Fort had a few lapses, but overall played well and even shed a block to make a tackle in the run game.
Option Three: Arthur Moats
While Fort will get the majority of the time next to Vince Williams, expect to see a sprinkling in of Arthur Moats. Moats is an outside linebacker but has played inside before. One of the reasons why he has remained with the team and remains active on Sunday over James Harrison is his versatility to play inside. On Wednesday, he got some practice reps, splitting time with Fort in that role. They are going likely going to split time in that role on Sunday as well.
Option Four: William Gay
Gay is going to see time in that “inside linebacker” role in the dime. He does every game. Gay averages 17 snaps per game in that spot, usually subbing in for Vince Williams. Now it will be Gay next to Williams on obvious pass downs. The Steelers will likely try to get Gay on the field at every chance they can, limiting the exposure they have at that spot. However, the Ravens also will run tight end, and fullback heavy sets, forcing the Steelers to make tough decisions.
Option Five: Sean Spence
In the words of Mike Tomlin, the Steelers will leave the light on for Sean Spence. Spence was signed just this week. However, he was drafted by Dick LeBeau and the Steelers when defensive coordinator Keith Butler was his linebackers coach. Spence went on to Tennessee to spend time with LeBeau, and the differences in schemes are not major. This is an assignment where Spence can walk on, practice for three days and see a few snaps. He will not be seeing the field a ton, and may only come in handy for special teams purposes. However, this will be a full unit effort to replace a great player.
In an NFL game, there are usually about 60 snaps on each side of the ball. Of those snaps, about half should go to Fort, a quarter to Gay, and an eighth of the time split between Moats and Spence, with a slight lean to Moats. The shuffling of personnel can throw off the Ravens, it gives them a moving target to attack, and it keeps all of their options open for other wrenches in the plan. Expect a full rotation at linebacker for the Steelers on Sunday.