It’s quite something that at this point the fact that Cameron Heyward is back on the field and doing the things that he is known to do has become somewhat of an afterthought. But that is what the seventh-year Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end looked like against the Giants last week, even if he conceded to some jitters for his first real competition since October.
Heyward of course suffered a torn pectoral muscle against the Cowboys last year that landed him on injured reserve, but he also suffered three other injures a year ago dating back to the preseason that caused him to miss time. he is hoping to put all of that behind him and start on another ironman streak of never missing games.
While the starters did not play too deep into the game, Heyward did show enough to indicate that he is back to his old self. He had a big hand, for example, in T.J. Watt’s first sack. While Watt did well to hold the edge and scrape off the defender, it was Heyward’s pressure up the middle that forced the quarterback to pursue the gap that ended up bringing him down.
Just a play into the second defensive drive of the game, the veteran did a nice job of playing the throwing lane. He read the quarterback well and batted the ball down with both hands. He looked somewhat disappointed, in fact, that he did not come away with the interception.
About midway through the first quarter, he lined up as the left-side three-tech over the right guard’s far shoulder. Off the snap, he did an excellent job of keeping his pads low, getting a good initial punch to bull rush the lineman back into the backfield.
After shedding the blocker, the quarterback attempted an ill-advised jump pass and Heyward brought him down onto the ground from a now elevated position. He induced an incompletion, but the defense was called for a hold.
On another play late on the same drive, Heyward lined up off the center’s left shoulder. He used one arm to drive the lineman back into the pocket, but the quarterback got the pass off quickly before he could apply any real pressure.
While not perfect, it was a very good and encouraging first bit of action for Heyward in about 10 months, providing strong indications that he should pick up where he left off whenever it was the last time he was actually fully healthy. And that is big for this defense.