Yesterday we looked at Cameron Heyward’s ability to play with power and leverage as an up-and-coming sack artist in the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. While those traits remain the cornerstone to his ever-improving game, Heyward’s developing arsenal of pass rush moves are what has truly pushed him into a special category of defensive linemen. Today we examine one of Heyward’s favorite moves, and how he utilizes his smarts and quickness to defeat blockers on his way to the quarterback.
The first play we’ll examine is from the second quarter of the Steelers Week 4 battle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As you can see in the image above, Heyward is lined up as a five technique across from Bucs left tackle Anthony Collins. Off the snap, Heyward attacks left guard Logan Mankins, who seems a bit surprised by the excellent get-off of the Steelers defensive lineman.
Look at Mankins’ form here. Do you see how wide his hands are? That is what we in the scouting world call “poor hand placement”. You want your hands tight and inside, so that a quick punch to the defender’s chest can be utilized to stymie their oncoming momentum. When an offensive lineman can work into a defender’s chest with an impact, they become the ones in control. Position your hands too wide, and not only have you lessened the impact of your blow by aiming at the defender’s shoulders, but you’ve left your own chest wide open to be controlled by the pass rusher on a possible bull rush. Heyward often attacks a blocker’s exposed chest with power and leverage as we explored yesterday, but here he notes a different, but additional error in Mankins’ technique.
Note how overextended the Tampa Bay guard is in the above image. Perhaps caught off guard by the quickness of Heyward, Mankins overreacts and attempts to lunge for the Steelers’ defender, instead of sinking his hips and creating a strong base to absorb the rush. It isn’t the worst form or biggest lunge you’ll see from a lineman, but it is incorrect nonetheless, mostly because it leads to images like this:
Heyward notes Mankins form immediately and recognizes the opportunity to utilize the swim move, a technique often used by defenders to take advantage of the offensive lineman’s momentum or lunge going in the opposite direction. As soon as Mankins overextends to reach Heyward, the crafty Steelers’ veteran quickly swims over top of the former All-Pro blocker with surprising agility. The result is a pivotal sack of Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon, who certainly isn’t the type of athlete that can thrive within a collapsing pocket.
Does the above play look familiar to you at all? If you’re an avid NFL fan, it should. It is eerily reminiscent of the sack that Mankins gave up on a crucial 4th down play late in the third quarter of the 2013 AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos. Defensive lineman Terrance Knighton utilized the swim move to defeat the then-New England Patriots offensive guard en route to a huge sack of Tom Brady on one of the biggest plays of the entire 2013 playoffs.
Think Heyward did his homework?
The dominant Steelers’ defensive lineman was at it again in the season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, when he worked rookie center Russell Bodine for a big-time sack early in the second quarter.
Heyward shows off his versatility here by lining up in a zero technique head up on the center, a rare spot for the pass-rushing phenom. As soon as Bodine’s weight shifts out over his knees and the first-year player overextends, Heyward makes his move.
While many defensive linemen utilize the swim move, few can do it with the quickness and suddenness that Heyward does, especially for a man that size. As his all-around game develops, those special athletic traits will only become more dangerous as he masters their usage over the next several seasons.
The best pass rushers in the NFL can win in multiple ways, setting up offensive linemen with an array of impressive moves, power, and technique. Heyward continues to embody all of these traits as a dominant force on the Pittsburgh defensive line, a force that cannot be relinquished next offseason, even if that means a hefty contract extension for the big fella this fall.