It’s probably fair to say that defensive end Cameron Heyward emerged this season as the most consistent player that the Pittsburgh Steelers currently have on defense, and perhaps the player who makes the biggest impact on opposing offenses.
Heyward led the team with 7.5 sacks, along with ample other pressures, and he added to his trophy case a number of batted balls, included one in the season finale. As he continues to play, I find him less and less taken out by a double team, which had been a weakness.
Heyward has yet to miss a game in his career, and yet has the highest motor of anybody on the team, making plays down the field that a defensive lineman should not be making. It’s an energy that spreads throughout the team as they feed off his tenacity.
Heyward had yet another strong game for the Steelers in the season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, which included his team-leading final sack, another pass defensed at the line (and another near miss), as well as a season-high seven tackles (six solo). How much more must he show until his name starts getting tossed around come Pro Bowl time?
While he has had issues playing the run in the past, Heyward more often than not makes up for it by making individual plays on his own that are not expected out of his position in the Steelers’ system.
Here is one such example in the middle of the first quarter, as he drove the center back off the ball into the backfield, shedding the block and pouncing on Jeremy Hill from behind, who was running in the opposite direction, for a stop after two yards on first down.
The Steelers seemed poised that drive to force the Bengals into another three and out, but the road team converted on fourth down. It was Heyward who ended up making the tackle at the end of that fourth down play, 15 or so yards down the field.
Early in the second quarter, Heyward notched his final sack of the regular season as he dominated the Bengals’ rookie center off the ball once again. He lined up over center in the nickel defense and quickly shed the block over the center’s left shoulder, getting a clear shot at the quarterback and dropping him for a loss of seven.
Late in the game, with the Steelers nursing a slim lead, the fourth-year man lined up over center again against the run on a short-yardage play, taking on a double team on the right side of the line and winning the outside, scraping down the line to tackle Hill after three yards.
After the two-minute warning, Heyward once again gained penetration rushing wide around the center, getting his arm up to knock the ball down at the line. He came close earlier in the game, but this time he connected.