When you’re a skilled veteran like Cam Heyward, there’s not much you can’t do. Clog the run. Attack the quarterback. Swat passes at the line of scrimmage. All elements of play reflected on the stat sheet. But Heyward’s value goes much further than that. Speaking with reporters Friday, TJ Watt said Heyward’s ability to run games and stunts, especially out of the team’s new three OLB package, is critical to the defense’s success.
“Anytime you get a versatile defense lineman like Cam, a guy who has been a league for a long time,” Watt said via Steelers.com. “He knows how to get games moving. I think that’s a lot of the challenge when you’re running games. Especially with three outside guys, is to create those creases for guys to get in gaps, to create the games and the rubs and the picks to get guys free to the quarterback.”
Few duos were better last season than Heyward and Bud Dupree thriving on stunts and twists. It was one reason, though far from the only one, why Dupree broke out and cashed in with the Tennessee Titans this offseason. Heyward is the most versatile defensive lineman on the team. According to our charting, he’s aligned at seven different spots this season ranging from LDT to NT to ROLB.
Here’s one example of a “game” being run out of that three OLB package last week. Heyward slanting into the A gap with Melvin Ingram wrapping around, a variation of a blitz package they’ve run before but out of a 1-4-6 personnel grouping instead of a 2-3-6 traditional dime package. Ingram gets free and would’ve had a pressure/sack had the ball not gotten out quick on third and long.
That was a package the team used eight times against Denver. With Stephon Tuitt still out, it’s a smart approach to put the team’s best pass rushers on the field in third down and obvious pass situations. Those eight snaps all came on third and fourth down.
Getting pressure on Geno Smith will be a key component to beating Seattle Sunday night and getting back to 3-3 on the season. Smith has a tendency to leave clean pockets and bail to his right which could play right into Watt’s awaiting arms. Pittsburgh may still blitz less often, as has been their MO this season, in order to protect not giving up the deep ball. Should the defense choose to rush only four, they’ll have to find ways to do it creatively to increase the odds of pressures and sacks. One way to do that is with games, stunts, and twists, making Heyward’s role a key one this weekend. Of course, as one of the best defenders in football, Heyward’s role is always key.