After his first season in the starting lineup a season ago, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward really raised the bar for himself, and to be quite frank, it’s possible that he set up expectations that he wouldn’t be able to live up to.
In his first year as a full-time starter, Heyward has found success only sporadically as he’s struggled to find consistency on a game to game basis. I’m starting to wonder if he’s not starting to put it all together over the past few weeks, however.
During that span, he hasn’t even been able to officially register a sack, though he did have at least one taken away by penalty. And he’s also helped others get their sacks, which has been the defensive end’s primary responsibility in this system against the pass. We saw plenty of that on Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens.
Before he could be bothered with all of that, however, he had a running back to blow up on the first play of the game. Left guard Kelechi Osemele was no match for his quick first move and strength, and once the left tackle released from a double team block, Heyward was around the corner dragging down the back for a loss.
Remember that pressure by James Harrison midway through the second quarter that was so impressive it forced Joe Flacco to throw the ball to Jason Worilds? You can actually thank Heyward for that.
Heyward and the scheme, that is. The defensive end straight bull rushed left tackle Eugene Monroe into the backfield, and with Harrison at first looking like he was going to turn inside and rush up the A Gap, which he had been doing, he instead slipped back outside, right around the occupied left tackle, with the running back unawares and instead picking up Troy Polamalu.
The Steelers put up points late in the first half, and the Ravens were hoping to do the same, but then Arthur Moats got the Flacco and dropped him for a nine-yard loss, sending Baltimore back to their lockers. And once again, you can at least attribute part of the success on that play to Heyward.
The Steelers ran a modified front on this play, with Moats and Brett Keisel at the seven-tech spots and Heyward standing up square over center. He bluffed an A Gap rush before moving over to the outside of the right guard. That drove him back into the pocket and into Flacco’s face, preventing escape as Moats closed in from behind.
Later in the game, the Steelers had him standing up again, though this time over the right tackle. Off the snap, he stunted inside around a gaping hole vacated by the right guard chasing Worilds. The back was able to chip Heyward, but he got up and tackled Flacco as he threw a desperate pass that was short of the chains on third and four.