The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Question: How do you cope with and adjust to the loss of defensive end Cameron Heyward and remain effective?
The Steelers were dealt the biggest blow of the season thus far when veteran defensive end Cameron Heyward announced that, after getting a second opinion, it was determined that he suffered a pectoral tear that was going to take him off the field for the rest of the 2016 season.
Heyward was named the Steelers’ defensive captain for a good season, and while, as I will touch on a bit later this morning, he will still remain a vocal presence on this team, the removal of his on-field contributions will have significant repercussions on the defensive unit’s quality of performance.
Heyward is the Steelers’ best and most impactful player on defense, as attested to by the fact that he has led the team in sacks for three years running, including this year, as no player has more than his three sacks.
And we have already gotten a glimpse of what the defense will look like without him on the field—or with him playing injured—and it involved a lot of the Steelers getting run on left and right, both for big plays and simply for consistently successful runs.
Perhaps the biggest concern with Heyward being out of the picture is the fact that Stephon Tuitt will be put in a much bigger role and be asked—or continue to be asked to play all or very nearly all of the team’s snaps.
With Heyward not on the field, perhaps the Steelers should consider working on alternative solutions, including relying less on two down linemen. If you can’t field two thoroughbred defensive linemen, then it may make more sense the search for more effective strategies, such as much three-man fronts.
One thing that will be phenomenally difficult to replace or replicate will be Heyward’s ‘heart and hustle’, so to speak, as the way that he plays the game has a tendency to rub off on those around them and to push them to play harder. It’s one of the reasons his teammates looked at him as their captain.