CURTIS: Stellar effort by Steelers' Shazier may help him shake 'bust' label
Ryan Shazier had himself the type of game that the Pittsburgh Steelers anticipated him having over and over again when they selected him in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
The numbers across his stat line aren't superhuman, but they are mighty impressive: 11 solo tackles, four assists, a sack, three tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a recovery in the Steelers' 43-18 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
It was the kind of afternoon that won't get him a bust in Canton, Ohio; though it may help to lift the "bust" label that some of the more impatient fans and analysts have tossed his way after an injury-riddled 2014 season and a pedestrian effort against the Patriots on Sept. 10.
Just don't think that his coach or a Heinz Field regular-season record attendance of 66,472 are among that crowd.
"He's going to have an impact in whatever stadium he's in," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's that kind of player. He's sharp and has gained experience. We expect his arrow to be pointed up week in and week out. He brings that approach, so I'm not surprised when he plays well."
The 23-year-old Ohio State product didn't register a sack in the nine games he played in 2014 or in the Week 1 loss to New England, but his first career sack in the NFL played a big part in helping the Steelers pull away from San Francisco.
On a third-and-7 from the San Francisco 21, Shazier chased down Colin Kaepernick at the 49ers' 4-yard line, resulting in a loss of 17 yards and giving Pittsburgh an edge in the field position battle following a punt that Antonio Brown returned 16 yards to the San Francisco 35.
Pittsburgh, already up 16-3, took one play to to expand on that lead with Ben Roethlisberger's deep ball to Darrius Heyward-Bey.
On San Francisco's next drive, a Carlos Hyde fumble was scooped up by Shazier at the 49ers' 42. Six plays later, Pittsburgh held a 29-3 lead – on the second of three touchdowns from DeAngelo Williams – and was well on its way to burying San Francisco.
It was part of a defensive effort that wasn't dominant, as per the reputation of the franchise. There were the occasional leaks that led to big gains or long drives, but five sacks and a turnover largely negated a day where the 49ers ran 82 plays, racked up 409 yards and held the ball for 36 minutes and 59 seconds.
But on a day when the Steelers offense tallied 453 yards on 52 plays and averaged 13.7 yards per pass attempt on their way to 43 points, bending but not breaking was an acceptable way to go about the day.
By the time that Steelers nemesis Torrey Smith hauled in a 75-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick, Pittsburgh was comfortably ahead and managed to get the score back in a matter of minutes.
"It was appropriate," Tomlin said of the performance. "We didn't do as well as we would have liked a week ago and we responded accordingly. We met this week's challenges. We weren't perfect. We gave up some big plays, particularly in the second half, but we will take the win."
If a downer existed in Shazier's day, it may have come late in the fourth when he suffered a right shoulder injury. It wasn't believed to be serious immediately after the game.
"Nothing substantial," Tomlin said. "Just bumps and bruises along the way. We will have a better report on Tuesday."