You might recall that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey at times played a big role over the course of the 2015 season. That is partly why the front office decided to sign him to a new three-year contract this offseason. He filled in for Martavis Bryant for the first five games through suspension and injury, and did so admirably.
Bryant also had issues late in the year, however, and it was in the season finale against the Browns during which he began to have a bigger role again. That should sound familiar, at least in part, because Heyward-Bey finally got healthy enough to return to the offense this season for the finale against the Browns, in preparation for becoming a bigger contributor.
Last season, Heyward-Bey helped spark the Steelers’ offense in the third quarter against the Browns with a big 66-yard reception on third down, on a pass that traveled over 40 yards through the air. On Sunday, his 46-yard reception against the Browns late in the fourth quarter helped the Steelers complete a premature comeback.
During the 2015 season, Heyward-Bey continued his big-play ways in the postseason, as he also added a 58-yard reception against the Broncos and their impressive secondary in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, a play that also occurred on third down.
He had four catches of at least 40 yards in 2015, including the playoffs, and five of at least 30. Because of a reduced role, and an injury that knocked out nearly half of his season, he has had far fewer opportunities so far this year to contribute in that way. The big catch on Sunday was his first of the year of at least 40 yards, though he did have another for at least 30 yards earlier in the season, on which he scored.
He also scored on a 60-yard touchdown run against the Steelers’ first playoff opponents, the Dolphins, by the way.
Anyway, the point is that Heyward-Bey’s re-emergence on offense, after a long layoff due to injury, may well have been the most significant development to come out of the Steelers’ final regular season game against the Browns heading into the playoffs, considering the injuries they have dealt with to their other potential deep threats.
The Steelers have struggled to maintain that true go-route deep threat in their offense, and one might expect that their move toward the run game over the course of the past several weeks can at least partially be attributed to the fact that they had lost a sense of reliability in their deep passing game.
Landry Jones attempted three or four deep shots for Heyward-Bey before finally connecting. Ben Roethlisberger should have more success on those deep throws than Jones had. Add Ladarius Green coming back as a seam-route presence from the slot, and we may finally see the sort of dynamic offense this team should be able to deliver, just in time for the playoffs.