The Pittsburgh Steelers ended the 2019 season much as they did the 2018 season, by allowing their playoff fate slip out of their grasp. Slow starts and slow finishes permeated both campaigns, with strong runs in between. But while the results were the same missing the playoffs, the means were quite different.
Yet again, they find themselves undergoing the exit meeting process earlier than anticipated, which means so are we. But that they still managed to go 8-8 without Ben Roethlisberger, and with the general quality of play that they faced along the way, I suppose things could have been worse.
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 2018 season.
Player: Cameron Heyward
Position: Defensive End/Tackle
Experience: 9 Years
He’s officially listed as a tackle. He calls himself an end. The way the Steelers play defense these days, the distinction doesn’t really matter anymore. His primary position is in a 2-4-5 (or 4-2-5) base nickel defense playing a defensive interior position. And it’s a role in which he has excelled for several years running now.
It’s not insignificant that Heyward has played the best football of his career from the age of 28 on. He is in his prime now, heading into his age-31 season, and 2019 may have been his best year yet, with nine sacks and a stunning 83 tackles.
To put that into perspective, and I realize it’s not wholly comparable with the two-gap versus one-gap differentiation, but Aaron Smith’s career-high in tackles was 70. Brett Keisel never had more than 56. Kimo von Oelhoffen never had more than 44 while with the Steelers, and never more than 45 anywhere.
Whether in 2000, 2010, or 2020, Heyward’s 83 tackles is eye-popping and shows how frequently he’s around the ball. That includes tackles for loss—he had 11, and has 37 over the last three years—and chase-down plays 20 yards down the field.
He’s not just a great physical player, who is able to bowl right over interior defenders, he is also savvy, able to read quarterbacks and disrupt throwing lanes. He had six passes batted down last year, and off the top of my head, I know at least one resulted in an interception.
Not only that, he is the heart and soul of the defense and one of the leaders of the entire team. A lot of players on both sides of the ball look up to him and understand that he is their voice. They know he has their back and their best interests in mind. He makes everyone around him better.
And the damnedest thing about him? No matter how well he plays, he’s never satisfied with his performance. He could win Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP and still be down on himself for failing to stop a one-yard run on second and one from midfield.