Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have had their bye week, several of the team’s previously injured players figure to be right at, or at least near, full health. Included in that group of players are defensive end Cameron Heyward and linebacker Ryan Shazier. Should that indeed be the case, there’s reason to be believe that the team’s run defense will show a noticeable improvement moving forward if both can now stay on the field the remainder of the regular season.
So, what am I basing my optimism on?
For starters, you might be interested to know that according to our defensive game charting through the Steelers first seven regular season games, that Heyward and Shazier have only been on the field at the same time for 125 non-penalty plays so far this year. That’s right at 28% of all non-penalty plays.
When both Heyward and Shazier were on the field together so far this season, opposing offenses have rushed for just 3.17 yards per carry. To give that stat a little more perspective, only 9 of the 36 non-penalty rushing plays that took place when those two players were on the field at the same time were “successful plays.” Additionally, only 4 of those runs went for 10 yards or more.
While my focus for this post is mainly to show how important it is for Heyward and Shazier to both be on the field at the same time against the run, you also might be interested to know that safety Robert Golden was only on the field for 104 of those 125 non-penalty plays. Additionally, while it’s very small sample size, when those three players were all on the field together, opposing offenses only rushed for 3.04 yards per carry on 25 total attempts. 23 of those 25 rushing attempts came in the Steelers first two regular season games against the Washington Redskins and the Cincinnati Bengals.
Assuming Heyward can return from his hamstring injury this coming Sunday for the Steelers road game against the Baltimore Ravens, one would think he’ll be able to play a large percentage of defensive snaps and thus be on the field at the same time both Shazier and Golden are. If that happens, it will be the first time since the first quarter of the Week 3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that has happened as that’s when Shazier and Golden both went down injured.
If I haven’t painted with enough optimism for you above when it comes to thinking that we might just see a remarkable improvement in the Steelers run defense starting this coming Sunday in Baltimore, you might also like to know that the Ravens have struggled running the football so far this season. In fact, the Ravens enter their home game against the Steelers having only averaged 3.82 yards per carry and 86.3 rushing yards per game.
Over the course of their last two games, the Steelers run defense has been lousy, but I think that will change starting Sunday in Baltimore if Heyward is able to return from his hamstring injury and Shazier is allowed to start playing his normal amount of snaps behind him.