It was assumed that when the Pittsburgh Steelers activated Martavis Bryant from suspension, that would essentially spell the end of Darrius Heyward-Bey as a significant offensive contributor. That is how it started, but the veteran has been seeing more time the past couple of weeks.
On Sunday, Heyward-Bey logged 22 snaps to Bryant’s 41, but while the former only had two targets, both of which could be classified as drops, it was clear that his main purpose for being in the game was the coaching staff’s desire to have his blocking on the field.
He threw a nice block early in the game in ground support, on the fifth play of the Steelers’ opening drive. Pre-snap, Heyward-Bey motioned from out wide to tuck inside of the tight end playing off right tackle. Off the snap, he raced up the field to engage the safety, Larry Asante turning him and enabling DeAngelo Williams to run off his back side for a six-yard gain.
Of course, it can’t be ignored that that run set up the third-and-four play that followed, on which he was targeted by Ben Roethlisberger for what should have been a fairly routine conversion. The veteran ran a drag route across the middle after bluffing vertically, finding himself open working toward the numbers. Ignoring the fact that he had Williams wide open in the flat, Roethlisberger’s pass to Heyward-Bey should have been caught had he not turned his eyes upfield before securing the ball.
Early on the Steelers’ next possession, Heyward-Bey was back in for run support, this time essentially a reverse of the previous running play detailed above. On this time, however, Asante was able to get inside of him, and made the tackle on Williams in the hole for no gain.
Late in the first half, the veteran receiver lined up just outside of the left outside linebacker, in this case Aldon Smith, out of an 11 formation. After a flurry of window dressing moves, including a false motioning of the tight end, the Steelers ran an end around for Antonio Brown, on which Heyward-Bey was assigned the task of sealing Smith to get Brown to the sideline. He executed this assignment well, though the much bigger Smith did toss him to the ground at the end of the run.
Early in the first half, Roethlisberger once again targeted Heyward-Bey on a third-down pass, but this time the receiver takes considerably less blame. The quarterback’s pass was well off-target, but not enough to suggest a miscommunication. Heyward-Bey stemmed his route inside, while Roethlisberger’s pass was thrown essentially at the stem point. The receiver attempted to make the adjustment, and gave himself an opportunity to catch the ball, but he could not corral it.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Steelers were facing a third-and-one situation inside the red zone. Roethlisberger fired off a quick screen to Brown, lined stacked behind Heyward-Bey. The latter did a nice job of walling off Asante to give Brown the space to get the necessary yardage to move the chains.
It goes without saying that Heyward-Bey’s primary purpose at this point is as a blocking wide receiver, given that he is the fourth option now within that stable. He hasn’t caught a pass in the last four games, but he has contributed in other ways—positively and negatively—as seen above.