It’s fortunate for the Pittsburgh Steelers that defensive end Cameron Heyward continue to play at a high level, a level that he has been able to extend for much of the past two seasons since entering the starting lineup.
Heyward has shown the potential to be a complete player, showing off skills in both the running and pass rushing game, while also showing a knack for batting down balls at the line, which he did once again against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Steelers haven’t been able to get too many impact plays out of their defensive line this season outside of Heyward, and of course even he can be taken out of a play every now and then. But when he is playing at the top of his game, it certainly makes the defense as a whole look much better.
Perhaps most impressive in his game, however, continues to be his motor, which is infectious and teaches the younger players how to be a professional. There was a great example of this late in the first half on a Matt Ryan scramble for 12 yards.
The Steelers lined up in their nickel defense, sending four rushers, with Heyward hand fighting and then coming around the edge, which flushed Ryan up into and out of the pocket. Heyward got pushed upfield but hustled and continued to chase down the play despite being behind it, and he wound up being the one to make the tackle.
Late in the third quarter, again in their nickel defense, Heyward this time lined up on the left side. He went straight ahead against the right tackle and got airborne, getting his arm up and swatting down Ryan’s throw like a basketball player blocking a shot. The Falcons got a first down on the next play, but it makes a quarterback think when he gets a ball batted back down in his face.
The Falcons found themselves just a few short plays later on the one-yard line facing second and goal, but Heyward made sure that they would get no further. He made the run stop in the backfield for a loss and the Falcons ultimately settled for a field goal.
The Falcons showed a pure running formation, lining up four tight end and fullbacks on or near the line. Heyward lined up across from the left guard, but when the guard pulled, he beat the down block of the left tackle and was in the backfield in a hurry, making the tackle for a loss of two yards.
After the Steelers jumped ahead 27-13 early in the fourth quarter, Heyward helped get the Falcons’ next drive off to a bad start, even though they went on to get into the end zone. He just walked the left guard into the backfield and got a piece of Ryan, forcing him to throw a poor pass.