The Pittsburgh Steelers have borne out very evidently this season that their defense is one in transition. It’s a transition that might even take a couple of seasons, but it’s also one in which, if everything is going right, the team as a whole can be successful.
The reason for that is because the Steelers do have a few pieces in place that will still be there on the other side of that phase, and one of them is former first-round draft pick, defensive end Cameron Heyward, playing in his fourth season.
The team may not be entirely sure how many others like him they still have on the defensive side of the roster, but he will be part of the nucleus of whatever comes out of this period of change.
Heyward continue his strong season last week against the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals in a performance that he hopes to build upon today. An example of that might be this drive-ending quarterback pressure on third and three during the Bengals’ opening possession.
With the offense spreading out the formation in a three receiver set, the Steelers countered with their nickel defense as Heyward lined up over center, shaded to his left shoulder. After getting a jump off the snap, he bull rushed the rookie center into the backfield, knocking him to the ground and forcing Andy Dalton to rush his throw, which his tight end was not prepared for.
Transitioning back to their base defense for the first snap of the Bengals’ next drive, Heyward lined up across from the left tackle as the offensive line shaded to the right off the snap. With the left guard moving upfield, Heyward slipped in between the two linemen and brought down running back Jeremy Hill after a modest gain.
A bit later, on the home team’s opening drive of the second quarter, Heyward did a nice job of filling his gap on an inside run off left guard, plugging the hole and following the back to the point of contact. Hill did manage to wiggle free a bit for two yards, which was enough for a first down.
On a play a bit later than midway through the quarter, Heyward did a good job of penetrating and forcing the back to cut back upfield in the direction of the pursuing linebackers, even if it resulted in him getting driven out of the play himself. But he opened up the lane for his teammates to make the play, which is what the defensive linemen are supposed to do.
On the first play of the second half, Heyward notched his team-leading fifth sack of the season, tying the number of sacks that he had last year as well. After penetrating against a double team and clogging Dalton’s throwing lane, the quarterback attempted to scramble, but Heyward was able to break free of the double team and bring the quarterback down.