The Pittsburgh Steelers have been riding Cameron Heyward hard all season, a missive that has only ramped up over the course of the past two games while fellow starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt has been sidelined with a knee injury.
In fact, the fifth-year lineman missed just two snaps during the length of the game, logging over 95 percent of the Steelers’ snaps, and he held up, performing both has a pass rusher and in run support—even on special teams.
Late in the first quarter, Heyward bull rushed the Bengals’ center into the backfield, where he reached back to hit Andy Dalton’s arm, forcing an errant pass, and nearly a fumble, but it was ruled a forward pass.
In the second quarter, rushing around the left tackle, Heyward stopped and turned after detecting the screen pass going over his head to Giovani Bernard. While two other defenders got to the running back first, it was Heyward, as he typically does, who came in to finish the play, this for a one-yard loss.
Early in the second half, following a nine-yard sack on first down, Heyward put the pressure on Dalton after getting by the left guard, forcing the quarterback to throw the ball away. His pressure forced the right tackle to clip him from behind, drawing an illegal peelback block penalty for a loss of 15 yards.
Later in the third quarter, Dalton was able to complete a long 38-yard pass, but Heyward was not far from making the play. Set up through the A gap, Heyward bull rushed and shed the center, getting a hit on Dalton, but only after releasing the ball.
The Bengals’ drive stalled soon thereafter, however, forced to attempt a field goal to end the drive. The first attempt from 37 yards was negated by a false start. On the second attempt from 42 yards out, Heyward, rushing over the long snapper, was able to get his arm up, elevate, and bat the kick attempt out of the air, recovered by the Steelers. That play at the time kept it a 10-6 game.
Late in the game, after a Steelers interception, the defense was set to hold on a third and five from the 34-yard line. Heyward rushed from a standing position, his pressure helping to force Dalton out of the pocket.
But the quarterback was able to flip the ball to Bernard in open space, who raced up the field for a 23-yard gain, where it was ultimately brought down by—Cameron Heyward, the ultimate hustle player.
After a second interception, the Steelers had to force the Steelers to go three-and-out to give them the time necessary to come back with a touchdown. On second down and nine following the two-minute warning, Heyward was able to beat the left guard on a slight reach block, nearly tackling the back behind the line of scrimmage, but still assisting on the tackle for a one-yard gain.
As exceptional as Heyward has been as a player this season, the Steelers need to get Tuitt back on the field, so that Heyward can get off the field from time to time. And even when Tuitt was healthy, he, too, was playing an unsustainable percentage of snaps. The team must find an alternative to driving two of their best defensive players into the ground. risking wearing them out down the stretch.