Shazier Leads Defense, Steelers In Romp

Defensive domination made the San Francisco 49ers look like a college offense.

PITTSBURGH – After the Steelers' 43-18 demolition of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, linebacker Ryan Shazier was asked whether that was the best game of his career.

"I played Indiana last year," Shazier started. "Oh, you talking my NFL career?"

The reporter nodded.

"That was definitely the best game of my NFL career," he said.

Excuse Shazier for confusing the 49ers with the Indiana Hoosiers, but he only made them appear that way.

Shazier played that well. He made 15 tackles, had a third-down sack for a 17-yard loss, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble to lead the Steelers’ improved defensive effort.

"I kind of felt confident of what I was doing," he said in putting it kind of mildly.

Shazier – the Steelers' first-round draft pick last year – had talked before the game about how excited he was to play a running team.

"Hey, man, I'm a linebacker. I love the run game," he said.

And it showed Sunday against his old teammate at Ohio State, Carlos Hyde, who was held to 43 yards on 14 carries. That was down by 125 from his performance earlier in the week when he and quarterback Colin Kaepernick led a 230-yard ground assault on the Minnesota Vikings.

But against the Steelers, the 49ers rushed for 111 yards on 31 carries, an average of only 3.1 per carry.

Shazier was the obvious standout, but the defensive line certainly did its part.

Unleashed by defensive coordinator Keith Butler from the old read-and-react take-on-blockers philosophy to a new disruptive style of play, Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward combined for 2.5 of the Steelers five sacks.

Tuitt's was first. His sack of Kaepernick on the 49ers' first possession led to a punt and the Steelers' first touchdown.

Heyward got the sack on the 49ers' second possession, one play after he had sniffed out a screen and thrown Hyde for a four-year loss. Heyward's ensuing sack halted a 49ers drive that had reached the Pittsburgh 10 and forced them to settle for a field goal.

On the 49ers' third possession, Heyward chased Kaepernick deep into the pocket and Shazier ran him down for the 17-yard loss. It forced a punt and the Steelers scored on the next play to take a 22-3 lead.

Shazier ended the 49ers' fourth possession by recovering Hyde's fumble in the backfield. The Steelers scored six plays later to put the game away by halftime, 29-3.

"I felt like all the sacks we got were big," Shazier said. "They kind of killed their drives and put us in great field position for our offense. That was the biggest goal, get our offense back the ball. They're so explosive and have so many weapons, we get them the ball we know they're going to score eventually."

It's a wonder the defense doesn't use that game plan more often.

Of course, the game plan they did use – of allowing their defensive linemen to penetrate more often – will be used more often.

"The D-line just controlled the line of scrimmage all day," said Lawrence Timmons. "Like Cam Heyward. You saw how he was such a force today. And my outside linebackers did a good job penetrating and keeping him contained. I feel they won the game for us today, made it easier for the guys on the back end. It was a complete game for them.

"We're letting them play now," Timmons added. "I feel Cam's one of the best D-linemen in football right now, the way he runs to the ball, runs down screens, gets sacks, was around the ball for the fumble, leaving it for Shazier. Just an unbelievable player."

Tuitt was also disruptive, and credit should also be given to tackles Steve McLendon, Daniel McCullers and Cam Thomas for the goal line stand in the third quarter. The 49ers drove to the Pittsburgh 3 but were stopped on six plays.

"We just wanted to bounce back from last week," said McLendon. "Guys just took it upon ourselves to go out there and leave it all on the field, and I think we did that."

Even rookie Bud Dupree got into the act with a sack – his second in two career games – in the fourth quarter. But it was followed by a 14-yard touchdown pass, which was followed on the next 49ers possession by a 75-yard touchdown pass.

The effort was far from perfect, as the boss, Heyward, warned.

"We've got a long way to improve because we still surrendered a lot of points," said Heyward. "We've got a lot to learn. But it was a good start."


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