It might be a narrow and niche list but Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive tackle Cam Heyward was named Touchdown Wire’s best pass rushing two-technique over the holiday weekend. Author Doug Farrar named Heyward the top rusher from that position. A two-tech is a linemen who plays head over guard. Stephon Tuitt took the top spot as the best four-tech, who aligns head-up on the offensive tackle. And T.J. Watt was named the best wide-nine pass rusher.
Here’s what Farrar wrote on Heyward.
“Heyward has been one of the NFL’s best defensive linemen regardless of gap assignment for a long time, so it’s no surprise that he would show up somewhere on this list. In this case, it’s as the most productive pass-rusher from the 2-technique alignment — head over the offensive guard…Heyward had one solo sack, one combined sack, and a league-high 12 total pressures from the 2-tech alignment.”
As Farrar noted, Heyward led the NFL with 12 pressures from over-guard. He’s able to win with his power and one of the league’s most effective bull rushes. He’s able to counter off of that with rip and swim moves when tackles set and try to anchor on his bull or when his bull rush has been stalled out mid-play.
The Steelers were also effective in using him on stunts. He and Bud Dupree were among the top-stunting duo last season. Heyward himself perfected the art of the “pick,” but he also benefitted from it, too. Like this Week 1 pressure on Daniel Jones, looping over Dupree on his way to the quarterback.
Wherever the Steelers line him up, Heyward has been among the most dominant defensive linemen in football. But as he’s gotten more playing-time as a two and three-tech, and classified as a DT instead of a DE, his stats and recognition have shot up. He’s now made the Pro Bowl in his last four seasons and was named All-Pro in two of them, 2017 and 2019.
His 2020 stats were quieter, with just four sacks. He still recorded 19 QB hits and was part of a defense that yet again put up 50+ sacks. Heyward is one of the most well-rounded defenders with a combination of great run defense, pass rush ability, effort, and leadership.
He’s just two shy of becoming the fourth Steeler to reach 60 career sacks since the stat became official in 1982 (others like Joe Greene get unofficially credited for achieving that number). Of the official list, he’ll join James Harrison, Jason Gildon, and Joey Porter. Three more sacks will put him third all-time in Steelers’ official history. But T.J. Watt is hot on his heels and could join that 60-sack club this season. He’ll need just 10.5 sacks to do it.
Here’s what Farrar wrote on Tuitt.
“A straight-up 4-technique tackle lines up right over the head of the offensive tackle, and nobody doing that was more disruptive last season than Pittsburgh’s Stephon Tuitt, who amassed three solo sacks and nine total pressures in that role.”
Tuitt broke out for a career-high 11 sacks a year ago, finally matching his production to his talent. He and Heyward have formed one of football’s most dangerous interior duos. Here’s one of Tuitt sacks from his four-tech spot, splitting this double-team by the RG and RT against the Eagles last season. He turns the corner and chases down QB Carson Wentz.
Farrar named Watt the league’s best nine-tech, the widest rusher coming off the edge.
“Last season, both Cleveland’s Myles Garrett and Detroit’s Romeo Okwara both had 10 sacks from the “wide-9” alignment — one more than Watt’s nine — but nobody had more total pressures as a 9-tech than Watt’s 59. Both Garrett and Okwara had 41.”
Watt had a Defensive Player of the Year worthy season with a league-leading 15 sacks. He had 13+ sacks in each of the last three years. He’s only the second defender since 2010 to do that, joining Arizona’s Chandler Jones.
For four straight seasons, the Steelers have recorded 50+ sacks. If they reach that mark again in 2021, they’ll become the first defense to do it since the Lawrence Taylor-led Giants in the 80s. With guys like Heyward and Tuitt, odds are good they’ll achieve that goal.