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Kevin Gorman: Ryan Shazier stars as defense shines

Kevin Gorman
| Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, 7:39 p.m.
Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier makes an interception in front of the Ravens' Benjamin Watson in the fourth quarter.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier makes an interception in front of the Ravens' Benjamin Watson in the fourth quarter.

BALTIMORE

Ryan Shazier celebrated his fourth-quarter interception with a dance the Baltimore Ravens would recognize.

The Steelers inside linebacker slid to his right, then to his left and finished by emphatically pulling his arms down with his chest out.

“You're talking about the Ray Lewis celebration?” Shazier said, with a sly smile. “You know, we're here in Baltimore, and my goal is to be the No. 1 defense and the No. 1 defensive player on the field every week.

“He has a great legacy. There's so much going on between him and the Steelers. I thought it would be amazing if I could go out there and do that. Sometimes, I just try to make the home team a little madder than I normally do, just to (tick) those guys off a little bit and have a little fun.”

What should have made the Ravens a little madder wasn't just the Steelers' 26-9 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium but Shazier's impact on it.

Shazier had a team-best 11 tackles (10 solo and one for a loss), three passes defensed — including a tip that led to cornerback Mike Hilton's first NFL interception — and his own pick.

A Ray Lewis-like performance.

“The type of stuff he's able to do, not a lot of people are able to mirror it,” Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. “To have him behind us, we already know it's kind of going to be impossible to get to the second level.”

Likewise, Shazier raved about playing behind Cam Heyward and Tuitt, who combined for seven tackles, four quarterback hits — including 2 12 sacks — and a fumble recovery.

“If they can't make the play,” Shazier said, “they're just going to destroy the play and let other people to flow and make it.”

It was the first time this season the Steelers front seven started together and gave a glimpse of how dominant this defense can be when healthy.

Aside from what Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called “popcorn” — gains of 23 and 50 yards by Ravens running back Alex Collins — it was a defensive gem. The Steelers had four sacks for minus-29 yards, forced three turnovers and held the Ravens to 82 rushing yards after allowing 220 last week in the overtime loss at Chicago.

“This game shows what we're truly capable of,” Shazier said. “We played a really good team, a division rival. It's always a pretty good game when we play each other, and I think this game really showed people that when we're hitting on all cylinders we're a pretty tough team.”

Despite a double-digit victory over an opponent against which 27 of the previous 42 regular-season games were decided by one score, the Steelers weren't satisfied.

They gave up the two big runs, almost blew a 19-0 halftime lead and had to make a fourth-down stop at the 4 in the final seconds to prevent the Ravens from scoring again.

“We're not even at our best yet,” Tuitt said. “Every week, we're going to get better and push until we get to our goal. ... This is not the best. This is probably like a C-plus. That's how I see it. I'm a tough grader.”

And a tough customer. Tuitt was on the field for all of two plays in the opener at Cleveland before injuring his left biceps, and there was worry he would be done for the season.

In his first game back, Tuitt was so disruptive he was drawing double teams. On one, he pushed two Ravens backward, allowing outside linebacker Bud Dupree to go inside for a sack.

“He's a monster,” linebacker Vince Williams said. “Tuitt's a problem.”

So is Shazier, who not only calls the defensive signals but also quickly is becoming its best playmaker.

“It's a privilege,” Heyward said, “to have him back there.”

And to watch him celebrate with a dance only the Ravens could love, except when it comes at their expense.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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