Cameron Heyward recorded a sack in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns in what looked to be an indication of the continuation of his All-Pro play from last season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but then he went three weeks without recording another.
He did add a sack and a half against the Atlanta Falcons in Week Five, but once again went through a three-week dry spell, which he broke on Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers, finally getting to Cam Newton in the first half.
With that sack, it also put Heyward over 40 for his career. He is just the eighth player in franchise history to reach that figure with the Steelers, and the third defensive lineman to do so, behind Keith Willis and his mentor coming into the league, Aaron Smith.
Willis was the first player in Steelers history to record 10 or more sacks in a season as a defensive lineman, a feat that he accomplished twice. He was the only one to do it until Heyward followed suit last season. Still, he has a long way to go to catch up to Willis, who is fourth on the team’s all-time sack list with 59.
As for Smith, who played in an era of the team’s 3-4 defense in which the pass-rushing emphasis was much more heavily on the outside linebackers than it is today, he recorded 44 sacks from 1991 through the 2011 season.
He is the next on the Steelers’ all-time sack list for Heyward, and probably the only one that he could realistically catch up to in the final seven games of the 2018 season, as Grey Lloyd at number six all-time with 53.5 sacks.
Heyward recorded 12 sacks last season and was named a first-team All-Pro, in spite of the fact that he was not voted into the Pro Bowl straight up. He did end up as a Pro Bowler as an alternate, and was the first defensive linemen from the Steelers to be recognized as such since Brett Keisel.
The former first-round pick only had three sacks in 2016, but that was an injury-plagued season in which he only played in seven games, dealing with several injuries and ultimately suffering one that landed him on injured reserve. He had previously never missed a game in his career.
But prior to that, he had recorded at least five sacks in each of his seasons as a starter, beginning in 2013, doing so now in four of the past five season, and he is on his way back there this year, sitting at four and a half with seven games to play after adding another sack in the second half of Thursday night’s game.