Does Ziggy Hood Need to Step It Up?

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.

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  • Cols714

    I don’t think he’s going to be a bust. We are just spoiled by Aaron Smith’s play. Considering that Smith is a Hall of Fame type of 3-4 defensive end, there is going to be a drop off from him to Hood.

  • Randy Steele

    If Nick Eason can dramatically improve his play as a Steeler, so can Ziggy Hood. It takes time.

    • RoB D

      Agreed.

  • Cobra

    JJ, I don’t buy the day in the life of a Steelers 3-4 end and I’ll tell you why. I ran across an interesting stat from Advanced NFL Stats website a week or two ago. BTW, it’s a great site and one of the stats that the host of the site tracks is defensive tackles. He ran the aggregate numbers for every team broken down by positional impact, and the thing that caught my eye very quick was the Steelers DL accounted for only 9% of the total tackles, This was significantly less than any other team, and how many teams run the 3-4 now?

    It also wasn’t too long ago before the onset of age started to rob their ability that Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel were dominate at their positions. Smith has had 2 seasons of 8 sacks and two of 5acks with a significant amount of total plays (tackles) made. Keisel has also been impactful at times and if you go back to KVO, he also had a number of very good years. Keep in mind neither of these guys were 1st round draft picks so this is tremendous production out of late round draft picks.

    Ziggy is a guy who I never thought was a great fit for the Steelers. I watched a bunch of Missou games and never thought he was a difference maker against quality competition. Against Oklahoma they moved him around to try to get good matchups and he was stoned all night.

    The bottom line with Ziggy is that he was the consolation prize at pick 32. He certainly wasn’t the Steelers top target, but was the best of what they could draft at that point assuming they couldn’t trade out of the pick.

    While, as Coach Mitchell said he had great intangibles such as a non-stop motor, great hustle and locker room presence, that doesn’t help you when you can’t disengage from your blocks. Instead I’ve questioned his less than desirable measureables to play the position and actually think he would be better off playing as a 1-gap NT.

    The bottom line it’s not too much to ask Ziggy to close the deal and make a game changing play instead of standing behind the scheme is limiting them.

    • Cols714

      I don’t buy into Keisel and Smith not being very good anymore. Just look at the defense over the past few years. It’s been pretty damn good, and was great in 2008. They couldn’t be this good without having a good DL.

      And yeah, Hood may never be great.

  • dennisonschili

    It took Smith and Keisel years to develop into starters. Hood just needs time and coaching. He will be at least as good as Keisel in another year or two, but probably better.

    • Cobra

      We may not have time to wait on Ziggy, because he needs to perform now. Here are some stats, Aaron Smith has missed 18 games (and counting) over the last 4 season, Keisel, 9 (and counting) over 3 and Casey is good for a game or two a year.

      We’re out of time waiting on guys to develop, young players like Ziggy are going to have to come in and perform at a fairly high level right now. I’ll continue to remain guardedly optimistic.

      So, i’m not questioning Ziggy’s heart and desire to play, and he does have good athletic ability, but he’ll never make up for the fact he’s 6’2 and change and has 33″ arms. There is a reason IMO that he has troble disengaging from blocks

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/100857546184516732260 Dr Obvious

    Don’t forget that Hood was pass rushing all night instead of run defending. That taxes the conditioning more.