The Pittsburgh Steelers have had three defensive players on their roster who have been on the All-Pro list for two consecutive seasons running. Two of the three were not on the field for them on Sunday, with outside linebacker T.J. Watt nursing minor hip and knee injuries and free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on the Reserve/COVID-19 List.
The one star player remaining was Cameron Heyward, the 11-year veteran who, frankly, does so much the average viewer just doesn’t see while the game is being played, yet offers just enough splash to get recognized by most fans who aren’t Warren Sapp, for some reason. He’s been a tone-setter for this defense for many years.
It’s “just the leader that he is”, cornerback Cameron Sutton said after Sunday’s game. “The consistency and high level that he plays with, his approach to the game, and how he passes that off to the players around him. He’s not a self-centered guy. He’s a high-energy guy, always around other guys, not just the d-line, second level, third level”.
Looking at the stat sheet, you’re bound to think that Heyward had a pretty unremarkable game. He is only credited with two tackles, though one of those tackles was a touchdown-saving one, chasing down Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert inside the 10 following a 30-plus-yard scramble. He also had one pass defensed—which just so happened to lead to a pivotal interception, by Sutton.
“He’s a dependable guy that we all lean on and we all look to”, Sutton said of Heyward. “Any time we have 97 out there, wreaking havoc on the field, it’s always a special moment to do it with him. I’ve always appreciated going to war with him since I’ve been here, and I know anybody who’s been with him or coming into the situation would say the same”.
Heyward has been the personification of Steelers’ football for pretty much his entire career, even before he entered the starting lineup, but he’s certainly been the heart and soul of that unit for some time now, which is why he is annually voted captain.
This season, he has 49 tackles, including seven for loss, with 10 quarterback hits, 4.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a career-high seven passes defensed, and the second interception of his career.
He’s well on his way to yet another All-Pro season; the only question is if it will be first-team or second-team. There were actually people who questioned the merits of signing him to a contract extension last year. He’s showing no signs of decline thus far at age 32.