2016 Midseason Review: Defensive Ends

We still have some time to kill before the Pittsburgh Steelers get back on the field, and their bye week happens to have fallen at a pretty appropriate time, so over the course of this week, we are going to bring you a sort of quick-hitter review of how the team has performed on a positional basis.

Position: Defensive End

Cameron Heyward: Cameron Heyward is the Steelers’ best defensive player, and if that were not already confirmed, then the previous two games with him on the sideline have added further proof. Heyward just missed the first two games of his six-year career after suffering a hamstring injury, but he is hoping to return for the Steelers’ next game.

On the year, Pittsburgh has eight sacks. Heyward has three of them. In fact, he is the only player who has at least two full sacks. Granted, all of them came in the same game, but that was one dominant game against the Chiefs. We have him down for eight pressures on the season, but he has also recorded four pass deflections, one of which produced an interception.

Stephon Tuitt: Stephon Tuitt has been comparatively quiet in his third season, or at least it seems that way, largely because he has not picked up a sack yet and the defense as a whole, particularly in the run game lately, has struggled.

But those issues have been more on the perimeter than along the front line, and he does have 20 tackles and two forced fumbles, as well as a pass defensed, and 10 pressures. Still, he needs to be more impactful over the second half of the season. That’s why they drafted him.

Ricardo Mathews: Free agent signing Ricardo Mathews has not exactly done all that much yet, though he has only logged about 125 or so snaps, most of which came in the last two games with Heyward sitting out. He has recorded four tackles, three of which have been assists. He does have three pressures in the passing game, and we saw him find success there in the preseason with his explosiveness, but he can struggle against the run.

L.T. Walton: Second-year man L.T Walton hasn’t played much—in fact, he has been inactive. He hasn’t recorded a tackle in a couple dozen snaps, but he did get his hand on a pass last week at the line of scrimmage.

Notes: I would be remiss not to note rookie third-round pick Javon Hargrave here, who has seen the majority of his time either as a base nickel defensive tackle. He has played close to 200 snaps at this point, with a lot of them coming over the course of the past two weeks. While he has dealt with a learning curve, he has generally been effective, and has picked up a few pressures along the way.

But overall, the Steelers need to get more out of this group in the second half of the season. Both Tuitt and Heyward have the potential to have a bigger, and more importantly, more consistent, impact on the games, and, frankly, they are the primary blue chippers on this side of the ball, so they have to be the ones to step it up.

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