Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward emerged not merely in the starting lineup in his third season, he emerged as a dynamic player for the defense at a time, and a position, that the team desperately needed such a player.
While not every game was an All-Pro-worthy performance for the young defensive lineman, Heyward put together several impressive performances this season that even Pro Football Focus took notice of, as he finished with an 11.3 overall grade from the advanced statistics site, with a positive grade in every category.
Heyward’s season finale against the Cleveland Browns did not represent his peak, nor did it represent a low; if anything, it was a sort of Goldilocks performance as a farewell to the 2013 season.
Midway through the first quarter, Heyward took advantage of the opportunity of going up against reserve guard Garrett Gilkey. As the guard swam to his left, Heyward cut to his inside shoulder and found himself in the backfield, in position to bring Edwin Baker down for a two-yard loss.
Toward the end of the game, Oneil Cousins replaced John Greco for the Browns at right guard. Heyward was a fan of the change (as he played left end when Brett Keisel is in the game). Though Jason Campbell was successful in getting his pass off, Heyward showed a strong bull rush and then ripped past the right guard to get to the quarterback.
A few plays later, Heyward got the better of Cousins again, though center Alex Mack picked him up. Still, when Campbell stepped up in the pocket on fourth down, Heyward was able to escape from Mack and get a hit on the quarterback to help force an incompletion and a turnover on downs.
Back at right end, Heyward and Jarvis Jones ran a cross stunt, and Heyward bull rushed Joe Thomas into the backfield, reaching out to his left to drag down Campbell for the sack—his fifth of the season.
Even more impressive is that Thomas was holding Heyward on the play, for which he was flagged, and still managed to get the sack. Thomas is a premiere pass protecting left tackle, so it was a nice exclamation point on what proved to be a breakout season for one of the defense’s most important young pieces.