With Isaiah Buggs deactivated and the Pittsburgh Steelers seemingly out of options, Cam Heyward worked as the Steelers’ starting nose tackle in Sunday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Heyward played well enough even at this new spot, but though the Steelers may have won that battle, they lost the war, giving up nearly 200 yards rushing to Joe Mixon and company.
Speaking with reporters Thursday, Heyward explained why the coaching staff shifted him inside.
“They want me to play nose and I’m going to play with the coaches call,” he told reporters via Steelers.com. “Is it different? Yeah, but man, I’ll be ready for anything. I’ve been in this defense enough to know what I need to do. Playing backside a little bit more. I know we’ve got things going on, but coaches got the best in mind for us. Whatever that takes.”
According to our charting, Heyward played ten snaps as the team’s nose tackle, including starting there Sunday. On the eight runs against him and the Steelers’ defense, Pittsburgh allowed 6.8 yards per carry and a 75% run success rate. So the results didn’t get any better. Heyward was serviceable at the nose, the team’s best defensive lineman no matter where he’s playing, but the Bengals had an easier time running away from him. Especially when, as he said, was the backside defender.
Like on this third down play. Pittsburgh in their over front with Heyward normally shifted to the strength but instead, the backside A gap player here. The Bengals toss the ball away from him, Joe Schobert misses a tackle, Isaiahh Loudermilk gets folded, and Joe Mixon picks up nine yards.
Ultimately, Heyward played ten snaps at nose, with Henry Mondeaux playing the other three in the team’s base 3-4 defense.
It’s unclear if Heyward will keep his role at nose this weekend against the Baltimore Ravens. The team signed Montravius Adams off the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad, Carlos Davis could get activated off IR, and there’s always a chance Isaiah Buggs gets a hat again.
Ideally, Heyward will return to his RDE spot. But the Steelers’ defensive line is in anything but an ideal situation. And they’re facing a run-heavy Ravens team who will surely test Pittsburgh’s depleted front.