Is Ziggy Hood looking like a bust?
There have been a lot of worries from Steelers fans that the 2009 first-round pick is not living up to expectations. He was a backup when the season started, and even when Brett Keisel missed some time, the Steelers promoted Nick Eason to the starting lineup, not Hood.
It wasn’t until Aaron Smith went down with his tricep injury that Hood finally became a starter. To get a better idea of Hood’s production, I watched him on every snap of last night’s win against the Bengals.
What did I see? It’s hard to say that there were many plays where Hood was a difference maker, but at the same time, there are a lot of plays where Steelers’ defensive linemen are asked more to occupy blockers than create havoc.
Because of the Bengals’ reliance on three wide receiver formations, the Steelers spent almost the entire game in their nickel defense–by my count there were five plays all night where Pittsburgh was in its base 3-4 defense. In the nickel defense, Hood usually lined up as a defensive tackle alongside Nick Eason. In several blitz packages (eight snaps by my count), Hood was asked to loop outside, not to pressure the quarterback, but to occupy blockers and to contain the quarterback to make sure Carson Palmer didn’t escape the pocket.
So on eight of the 49 snaps, Hood was in the game, it would be surprising to see him show up on the stat sheet. If you want to criticize Hood, you could point out that he didn’t generate any sacks or any official quarterback pressures on any other play. But it wasn’t as bad as it initially appears.
By my count, Hood had six pass plays where he beat his man. On three of them he appeared likely to generate a quarterback pressure, but another Steeler defender got there first. On another Hood drove the lineman blocking him back into Palmer, preventing Palmer from stepping up into his pass. On another two, he generated some push, but not enough to get a quarterback pressure.
Late in the game, Hood was rather unproductive as a pass rusher. On the Bengals’ last drive, Hood was on the field for 13 of the 14 plays. His best play of the series came on the first, as he tackle Reggie Kelly after Kelly recovered the fumble forced by LaMarr Woodley’s sack of Palmer. Two plays later he generated some push into the backfield again, but that was the last successful pass rush of Hood’s night.
From then on, Hood didn’t do much–part of which may be blamed on the massive amount of snaps he was playing with the Steelers’ thin on the defensive line. He started to look a little gassed as the drive went on.
But part of that comes from a lack of moves too. As a former defensive tackle, he got his sacks in college from a quick first step and power. In the NFL, his bull rush is enough to sometimes drive an offensive lineman backwards, but it’s not enough to get him a free shot at the quarterback. And he’s not quick enough to beat tackles to the outside consistently. So Hood is going to have to find something beyond a quick first step if he’s ever going to start piling up sacks.
Hood was more impressive when it came to the running game. The other of his two tackles came when he controlled his blocker, flowed down the line and helped out on a tackle of Cedric Benson on a run the other way. But he was just as important on a play where he drove his lineman into the backfield on the second play of the game. Hood’s penetration forced Benson to take his run outside. Hood did his job it appears, although Pittsburgh failed to seal the corner and Benson went for six yards.
I counted one other run where Hood’s penetration helped to disrupt a running play. There were three plays where he was driven backwards on running plays, so it wasn’t all good.
Overall, it was a normal day in the life of a Steelers 3-4 defensive end. It’s worth noting that the Steelers’ other defensive linemen (Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Chris Hoke and Nick Eason) combined for exactly one tackle and no quarterback pressures. And Aaron Smith, the Bugatti Veyron of Steelers’ 3-4 defensive ends, had six tackles before his injury–stats don’t really say much about how a Steelers’ 3-4 end is playing.
But overall, Hood seemed to give a solid, if unspectacular, effort against the Bengals.