December 4th will be a game Connor Heyward’s going to remember for a long time. Probably because he’ll have a football on his mantle reminding him of the day. Heyward caught his first NFL touchdown pass of his career in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ win over the Atlanta Falcons, a big score from 17-yards out.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Heyward broke the play down.
“[Pickett’s] gonna pick a side depending on if it’s zone or man,” Heyward said via the team website. “They happened to be in two-high. And I split the safeties and it ended up working out. We rep that play a lot in practice.”
Here’s a look at the play. Heyward is aligned as #3, the innermost slot receiver to the top. He fakes to the outside like he’s going to run an out/stick route, getting the safety to bite. In response, Heyward stems vertically and splits the safeties, the way to beat two-deep.
It’s a good ball and nice finish from Heyward, whose soft hands, body control, and overall athleticism have always been on display. Traits he showed at Michigan State and traits he showed in the summer. Here’s what we wrote about him following training camp.
“He caught fire down the stretch, catching his final 14 targets and making plays down the seam. Overall, Heyward is a natural catcher of the football with soft hands and a good radius to make up for his lack of size. He made more difficult combat catches down the stretch and runs solid routes, performing especially well in the opener against Seattle.”
All things on display on that play. Though we don’t have official snap counts yet, Heyward seemed to have an increased role in the game, especially early on. He was part of the rotational offense on the team’s first drive, throwing his weight around and finishing his blocks.
As we wrote earlier, Heyward’s score was very similar to the first receiving score his dad had. Connor a 17-yard grab down the right seam, Craig’s a 22-yard catch down the right seam.
On the year, Heyward has eight receptions for 93 yards and that score. Far from gaudy numbers but he’s logged a fair amount of work for a #3 tight end behind established options like Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry ahead of him. He’s helped out on special teams and gotten work as a blocker, though he’s struggled more in those moments.
Playing in the city his late father once suited up for and Connor Georgia-born himself, Sunday was a special day for lots of reasons. One he and the Heyward family will never forget.