With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team as a whole has suffered its ups and downs throughout the season, particularly the bi-polar offense that prefers the comforts of home. Even with all the road struggles, however, the Steelers are ranked seventh in the league in scoring, averaging 26.2 points per game.
On the flip side, the defense has struggled not only with youth and inexperience but also with injuries, en route to posting the 19th-best defense in points allowed, giving up 23.9 points per game, with hopes to start changing that down the home stretch.
Player: Cameron Heyward, DE
As a fourth-year player, Cameron Heyward is now one of the veterans of the defensive line for the Steelers, and is also certainly the best player on the line. Although he has had his struggles in spats against the run, most of which came early in the season, Heyward has over the course of the season overcome initial concerns that he would not be able to continue his run that he began last year when he entered the starting lineup.
He currently is tied with James Harrison for the team lead in sacks with four. No other defensive lineman has more than one. Outside of Harrison, in fact, Heyward has been perhaps the only other player on the team to have been able to bring pressure consistently as the Steelers as a whole struggle to bring the quarterback down.
One element of his game that Heyward has carried over from last season has been consistency in another area as well, which is tackling. He doesn’t miss many tackles, and that has been especially important over the past two seasons, as this is no longer a defense, at least in this transitional phase, that can rely upon its sound tackling to make up for mistakes.
It’s true that Heyward can find himself blown off the ball sometimes, but he usually brings the runner down if he even gets a finger on him. We’ve seen him make a handful of jersey tackles over the past season and a half.
Defensive line coach John Mitchell recently said that when he talks to his younger players about how to be a professional, he points to Brett Keisel, and he points to Heyward, as examples of what he wants in his defensive linemen.
Heyward had a tough go of it at times last week against the Titans. In the rare instances in which they did run to his side, they seemingly almost always sent a double team his way. As a result of that, that game will not be on his year end highlight reel. But he should be fired up for the home stretch.