It’s typically difficult to find bright spots on a defensive unit that gives up 35 points, but the Pittsburgh Steelers did see a few solid efforts turned in from their front seven, chief among them perhaps that of Cameron Heyward, who was strong against particularly against the run against the New Orleans Saints.
Nobody else along the defensive line has played anywhere near the 646 defensive snaps logged by the fourth-year former first round pick has this season.
In his first year as a full-time starter from opening day, he has been on the field for over 86 percent of the Steelers’ snaps on defense, and has been the one source of consistency, in terms of both performance and health, along the line.
While he found most of his success in the second half, he made a huge stop on third down in the first quarter, hitting Drew Brees as he threw on a third and six play that likely saved a touchdown.
From the nickel, the Steelers stood up their front four, with Heyward pressing the right guard before peeling off to get a hit on Brees. The hit altered the quarterback’s pass, which sailed over Kenny Stills, who’d beaten the secondary by four yards. Instead of a 76-yard touchdown, the Saints punted.
As mentioned, however, Heyward turned it on in the second half, making the tackle on the first play of the third quarter as he beat the right tackle to the inside position on a zone run left. With James Harrison on his legs, Mark Ingram was engulfed by Heyward on the back side for a run stop on first down.
After a short five-yard pass on second down, the Saints found themselves in a third and three after taking a 14-6 lead into halftime. Brees attempted to check down to the running back on the play, but Heyward got his arm up and batted the ball away, ricocheting wide of its intended target to force a three and out.
Later in the third quarter, after the Saints had gotten out from deep in their own end with a 21-yard gain, Heyward was able to make the stop on Ingram for no gain on first down. He was facing a one on one block against the right tackle and managed to position himself well on the lineman’s outside shoulder, right in the path of the running back.
The Steelers were in dire straits in the middle of the fourth quarter after the Saints took a 35-16 lead. To make matters worse, the offense turned the ball over on downs after coming up a yard short. But the defense was able to get the ball back while draining just two minutes off the clock, and it started with Heyward beating the left guard inside to tackle Ingram for a four-yard loss in the backfield.