By Matthew Marczi
It is no secret that Pittburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward has really blossomed in his third season. This began before his promotion to starter; in fact, it is what led to the promotion. With the increased snaps, however, he has gotten the opportunity to make a bigger impact on games. It may have been hard to notice in a 55-point beating, but Heyward had his share of impact plays this past Sunday.
Working the cut block has been an issue for Heyward in his young career, including in this very game. Here, however, he was able to play off the block with ease, and as a result, it put him in excellent position to stop the play, which he did after a gain of just one. I believe Chris Hoke would be proud.
In fact, he successfully navigated the cut block again a bit later in the game, this time through more traffic, bringing down the back after a short gain.
But, of course, Heyward’s reputation thus far throughout his young career has surrounded his ability to generate pressure against the pass from the 3-4 defensive end position, which has suffered somewhat since Ziggy Hood took over for Aaron Smith. Heyward looks a lot more like Smith rushing the passer than Hood.
It is surprising that it took Heyward eight games to register his first sack of the season, given the significant amount of pressures he has consistently supplied throughout the year. In fact, he is tied with Brett Keisel for the team lead in pressures, based on the team’s own numbers.
On this play, he took advantage of the gap left open when left guard Logan Mankins moved to help out with Steve McLendon to get into the backfield. After pushing off the right guard, he had little chance of preventing Heyward of hitting the opening.
Of course, not every pressure results in a sack, but this play above is a good example of pressure influencing the pass without bringing the quarterback down. Thanks to the pocket quickly closing in on him, Tom Brady was compelled to dump the ball off to his back, and thanks to the good coverage of Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers forced a third down situation.
On Heyward’s sack, he robbed LaMarr Woodley the opportunity to register a notch in that column. Here, Jason Worilds robbed Heyward of another notch. Some would argue that Heyward deserves split credit on this play. In fact, Pro Football Focus does credit him with a sack here. The Steelers did a great job of crossing the ends on this play to break down the interior offensive line, and it resulted in a collapsed pocket and a turf-stained jersey for the quarterback.