Cameron Heyward was pretty animated the last time he was on the field against the Cleveland Browns. He had just witnessed Myles Garrett strike Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph in the head with his own helmet, after all, and then saw Larry Ogunjobi shove him down from behind. It memory serves, a teammate had to hold him back after he began ‘lecturing’ Browns players about restraining their guy.
That’s old news, however. The story from that game is that they lost, and in losing, they have made their path to the playoffs more difficult. So Heyward’s focus for tomorrow’s contest is plainly and simply winning the game. And he doesn’t expect the melee at the end of the last one to make any difference in this one.
Or at least, “hopefully” it won’t. “Play this game clean”, he told reporters in the locker room earlier this week during his media availability session. “It’s going to be a hard battle. It’s a divisional game that we’ve got to win. Both teams want to win this game”.
When asked if he expected the officials to more closely monitor the players for unsportsmanlike conduct given the way things ended last time—four total ejections, literally dozens of fines, and a black eye for NFL public relations—he said to tell them to be on the lookout for holds.
“I think playing clean and playing disciplined, you’ve got to have good technique”, Heyward went on. “Trust your technique so you don’t get put in situations where you’ve got to flail or do things that are uncommon to the game. You do that so you prevent those mistakes”.
He has been doing that and then some this year. He has six and a half sacks on the season, on pace to have the second-most sacks in his career, and with another double-digit season within reach with five games to play. He could also break his career-best in tackles with a good outing against the Browns, and he has a forced fumble with four passes batted down.
So his focus is only on what he can control, and that largely comes down to just his own game, but also the responsibilities of his front seven. Pocket containment was a big issue against Baker Mayfield the last time around, so that’s a point of emphasis coming into this contest.
“Extended plays, I think we gave up too many”, he said. “Even though I think we were pretty stout in the run, I think we could stop it a little bit more. We’ve got to get back to getting some turnovers. We didn’t get any turnovers that game, and it kind of put us behind the eight-ball”.
The Steelers are 6-5, just barely ahead of three other 6-5 teams for the second wildcard spot. The Browns, with a head-to-head game in hand, are 5-6. There can’t be any worry about anything other than getting the win.