The Pittsburgh Steelers need defensive end Cameron Heyward to emerge as one of the young leaders on defense, even while he’s continually growing and maturing as both a player and a leader himself.
This is going to result in some growing pains, and there are times when he still gets completely taken out of a play, but he was one of the Steelers’ better defenders on Sunday, warts and all.
On the first snap of the Cleveland Browns’ second drive, Heyward manhandled rookie left guard Joel Bitonio, pushing him into the backfield on a stretch run to the left and allowing the floodgates to open for defenders to close in and tackle the back for a loss.
Midway through the second quarter, Heyward was able to get his arm out into Joe Thomas’ chest on a run off right tackle. With Ben Tate trying to cut the run back, Heyward was able to flow down the line and make the tackle.
Following the two-minute warning, the Browns needed four yards from their own 21 for a first down. With the Steelers in their nickel, Heyward was lined up at left defensive tackle with Brett Keisel on the right side. Heyward pushed forward before looping around to bull rush Bitonio into Brian Hoyer’s face, forcing a hurried throw and, ultimately, an incompletion.
Late in the third quarter, Thomas didn’t put forth too much effort in shielding Heyward off what was supposed to be the backside of a run to the right, but he once again flowed down the line and made the stop himself.
Even though this was a busted play on the Browns’ part, the fact of the matter is that the Steelers needed to stop it on third and one within the 10-yard line. With Hoyer missing the handoff, Heyward was able to get inside the right tackle and bury a shoulder into the quarterback to force a field goal attempt.
On the Browns’ eventual game-tying drive, the Browns were near midfield when Heyward got caught in the wash by the right guard, blocking him into the back of the right tackle and knocking him down. This allowed room for a big run of 16 yards around his side of the field. There were other lowlights such as this one, but I seem to have favored showcasing his positive contributions.
Nevertheless, he came up especially big late in the game when the Steelers needed something to happen the most. With under two minutes to play and on the 20-yard line following a touchback, the Browns were hoping to begin a game-winning drive when Heyward bullied the right tackle into Hoyer’s face, knocking him down for a sack.