Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward saw a season-low 19 snaps in the loss to the Minnesota Vikings and if you are wondering why that was, it’s really quite simple.
Prior to the season starting, head coach Mike Tomlin said that the third-year Ohio state product would be playing mostly in sub packages.
“We feel very good about Cam Heyward,” said Tomlin back in early September. “We feel he’s had a very good preseason and training camp. “We’re going to feature in some sub package football, you’ll see him out there in the game. He’s going to play in a manor of which he’s played in the past. He’s going to get a number of snaps.”
Through the first four games of the 2013 season, Tomlin has stayed true to that plan. According to our game charting, 81 of the 114 plays (71.2%) that Heyward has been on the field for have come when the Steelers have had either their nickel or quarter sub packages on the field. In fact, on only 12 of those plays did defenses attempt to run.
Of the 33 other plays that Heyward was on the field for in the Steelers base defense, 24 of them came at right defensive end when he was sent in to give Brett Keisel a breather.
According to Pro Football Focus, Heyward leads all Steelers defensive ends with a 8.1 pass rushing productivity number, but when you consider that most of his pass rushing opportunities have come when he really hasn’t had to worry about the run, it’s probably not as good as it should be.
Unless Heyward is to eat more into Keisel’s playing time in the Steelers base defense moving forward, you can expect his snaps to be dictated by sub package usage. Against the Vikings, the Steelers weren’t able to use their nickel sub package all that much because of their failure to keep the Vikings offense behind the chains and that’s something they hope to change this coming Sunday against the New York Jets.