The Pittsburgh Steelers find that their 2017 season ended a bit prematurely, and are undergoing the exit meeting process a couple weeks sooner than they would have liked. Nevertheless, what must be done must be done, and we are now at the time of the year where we close the book on one season and look ahead to the next.
While we might not know all the details about what goes on between Head Coach Mike Tomlin and his players during these exit meetings, we do know how we would conduct those meetings if they were let up to us. So here are the Depot’s exit meetings for the Steelers’ roster following the 2016 season.
Player: Cameron Heyward
Position: Defensive End
Experience: 7 Years
In many ways, the 2017 season was the best of Cameron Heyward’s career. He became just the second defensive lineman in Steelers history, for example, to record at least 10 sacks in a single season, finishing with 12. Only Keith Willis has recorded more—and he did it twice in the 1980s.
It was largely by virtue of his excellent pass rush that he was awarded long-overdue designations. While he had to come in the back way, he was finally named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2017. He was also named a first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, whose All-Pro voting better reflects today’s game than the NFL’s anachronistic Pro Bowl ballots.
It’s fair to say that Heyward was the driving force—literally—behind one of the best pass-rushing efforts in Steelers history, during which the team recorded a league-high and franchise-best 56 sacks, doing so by consistently generating pressure, much of which came from up the middle.
That said, the team’s performance against the run waned throughout the season, and then fell off a cliff after Ryan Shazier was injured. Heyward owns some culpability in that, not just as a defensive lineman, but as the defensive captain.
It is his responsibility to work his teammates over, to make sure that they are staying disciplined in their assignments and trusting others to do the same. This is something that he harps on a lot, yet we don’t see it on the field.
Unfortunately for him, football in particular is a sport in which the most recent image is the lasting image, and the Steelers, especially their front seven, got worked over, physically, against the Jacksonville Jaguars in their loss.
Heyward wasn’t must of a factor at all in that game, and while that is notable, I think a lot of people are putting too much stake in just one game, even if it was by far the most important game of the season. To use that as a predictor of future results when there are 16 other games to look at is unfair.
There is no reason to believe that Heyward will not continue to play at a level representative of one of the best at his position going forward. He just needs more help from those around him, and perhaps a little more discipline against the run.