After playing nearly 100 snaps on Sunday against the Bengals, chances are a majority of the players on the defensive side of the football are still feeling the aftereffects on their bodies.
Football is a physical contact sport, so nicks and bruises are to be expected from the aftermath. However, the Steelers’ defense played nearly two games’ worth of snaps in Cincinnati, seeing multiple defenders go down during the game with varying degrees of injuries. DeMarvin Leal, Alex Highsmith, and Cam Heyward all went down during the game but were able to return, whereas Levi Wallace and T.J. left the game and did not return. Wallace has since been described as having an ankle injury that appears minor in nature and will have a chance to play this week whereas Watt has since been put on IR to tend to an injured pectoral muscle that will need several weeks to heal.
Cam Heyward was asked about the defense playing nearly 100 snaps on defense last week and what emphasis they are putting into rest and recovery this week compared to any other week given the workload they shouldered against the Bengals.
“There’s definitely a big emphasis on that,” Heyward said on the topic of rest and recovery to the media Thursday on video from the team’s website. “You know, going to overtime and playing the entire overtime, guys just got to heal up. I don’t think anybody’s going to feel sorry for us. So, New England is not going to feel sorry for us. So, it’s up to guys to just take care of their bodies, but still be mentally sharp. These meetings mean a lot. What we’re putting in, how we’re executing, it’s got to be above the line stuff and guys got to be willing to stay locked in and ready to go.”
Heyward played 57 defensive snaps and eight special teams snaps Sunday at Cincinnati, missing some time when he left the game while also rotating with other defensive linemen. A seasoned veteran that has stay relatively healthy throughout his career outside of 2016 when he suffered a pec tear, limiting him to seven games played.
To stay that healthy through a 16-now-17-game season, rest, recovery, and prehab must be a huge emphasis for a player now in his age-33 season. Soft tissue work, myofascial release, yoga, proper warmup/cool down, static/dynamic stretching, nutrition, hydration, and sleep are just several aspects each athlete must take into consideration when they look to keep their minds and bodies functioning at a high level. You can get away without going through a specialized warmup in your teens and possibly early 20s, but once you start to hit your mid 20s to 30s, that is when the body starts to slow down in terms of how fast in can bounce back from an external stimulus like an intense training session or a physical professional football game.
Heyward gets this and holds others to the standard of not only being physically prepared, but also staying mentally sharp while recovering from a tough week. It can be easy to have your focus waiver because you are physically exhausted. However, mentally checking out will take away from the preparation for next week’s game and potentially lead to teams being less prepared than they need to be to execute at a high level. This often is why teams experience a letdown after an emotional game that results in a hard-fought victory due to being both physically and mentally drained.
However, Heyward put it best saying that no one is going to feel sorry for them, let alone Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, who are historically known for finding their opposition’s weakness and exploiting it. Therefore, Heyward and the rest of the Steelers will have to dial in this week both physically and mentally to avoid a letdown and be as prepared as they possibly can be with the Patriots coming to town, who are out for blood after taking a loss to the division rival Miami Dolphins last week.