It’s no secret that the defense has been the difference maker for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. While they occasionally muster a competent performance from one of their playmakers on offense—recently, it has been James Washington, of all people, coming up with the big plays—those on the other side off the ball have been the ones to turn the tide when necessary.
That’s been no different in their most recent victory, and it’s fitting that it was Devin Bush forcing a key fumble midway through the fourth quarter in the red zone and Minkah Fitzpatrick scooping it up. T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree both forced fumbles as well.
But there perhaps hasn’t been a more consistently positive force on the defense this year—certainly over the past half-decade—than Cameron Heyward, the Steelers’ defensive captain, and the man who stirs the drink. At 30 years old, he’s still chasing running backs down from behind and setting the tone for his guys.
He predictably had yet another strong game, this time against the Cincinnati Bengals, coming up with six tackles, one for loss, another sack to bring him up to 6.5 on the year, and four quarterback hits, his most in a game this year.
It was enough to earn him top honors among interior defenders on Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week for Week 12. This week, he was the only member of the Steelers to make it, though Washington, Watt, Dupree, and Fitzpatrick have all made it previously this year.
Describing Heyward as “a one-man wrecking crew against the Bengals on Sunday”, the article reads, “he recorded five total pressures, including a sack, and tallied three additional stops in run defense. He also recorded a 92.6 run-blocking grade on the day”.
Heyward now has 55 tackles on the season, which is just four off of his career-high of 59 tackles, which he had in 2013, the first year in which he moved into the starting lineup after three games. He has six and a half sacks, 16 quarterback hits, eight tackles for loss, four passes batted, and a forced fumble to boot.
He is well on his way toward his third Pro Bowl in a row, of that there can be little doubt. He already has the fourth-most sacks in a single season in his career, and he still has five more games to add to his total. He should easily be able to net two or three more with an outside shot of reaching double figures for the second time in his career. The only other defensive lineman to do it in Steelers history was Keith Willis.