With second-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant serving a four-game suspension, the Pittsburgh Steelers called upon veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey to step in as the third wide receiver when the offense operated with three on the field, which was often.
Heyward-Bey played 43 of 73 offensive snaps, and was productive, recording four receptions for 58 yards, 43 of which came on a single play on an impressive catch on a deep ball that converted a third down and eight situation. It was certainly by far the biggest play that he has made yet in a Steelers jersey.
Unfortunately, the drive soon stalled afterward, and the team ended up missing on a field goal attempt, but Heyward-Bey did his part, utilizing his greatest asset, his speed, to open up the vertical game and give the Steelers position at the Patriots’ 35-yard line.
On the Steelers’ following drive with four minutes left to play in the half, Heyward-Bey caught a short pass over the middle in traffic for four yards that converted a fourth down and three. Both catches were notable given the veteran’s reputation for lacking soft hands.
Two plays later, he nearly got the Steelers back into the game after it looked like he recorded a touchdown pass at the extreme left edge of the end zone. As replays confirmed, however, the toes of his right foot just slightly grazed the white boundary line as he anchored his lower half to field the ball—which he admittedly let bounce off his chest.
Heyard-Bey certainly does earn fault on this play, without question. As a veteran receiver, he should without question have a high level of comfort with his positional awareness. He knew that he was close to the boundary, and he extended his base unnecessarily.
Which naturally gives way to his second fault on the play, an extension of his, shall we say unorthodox, method of pass catching. By this point in his career, Heyward-Bey will never be a technically sound traditional pass catcher, even if he is able to bring in receptions.
But this instance shows where it does hurt him, and the team. The pass was delivered without incident, arced over the defender, and he should have had the opportunity to field the ball with relative ease using his hands.
Instead, he anchored down to bread-basket the ball, using his chest plate as a backboard of sorts before tucking it in to brace for contact.
Of course, had he kept his foot inbounds safely and hauled in the pass, nobody would be particularly concerned about the incident, and perhaps Heyward-Bey would even have been celebrated in his role of securing a Steelers comeback by putting seven points on the board before halftime.
This is simply the type of game that is typical of Heyward-Bey. He possesses playmaking ability, but he also possesses technical flaws that can negate his own best assets and take away those plays. He is a player who is good enough to be a contributor, but not one that you would regularly rely on from game to game.