Numbers Crunch: Cameron Heyward – Left End Or Right End?

By Alex Kozora

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive ends are arguably the team’s biggest question mark heading into 2014. How well will Cam Thomas adjust to playing five tech full time? What can Stephon Tuitt offer the team in his rookie year? Will any of the young pups – Brian Arnfelt, Nick Williams – make an impact? All valid questions.

One player that doesn’t need to be worried about is Cameron Heyward. A budding star in the league, he came into his own in 2013. The team plans to “move” him, though that is a bit of a misnomer considering he played both positions, to right end this year.

The probable idea behind this is to have Thomas, a bigger and stronger defender, man left defensive end, facing the offense’s strong side. But do Heyward’s numbers suggest otherwise?

In a word: yes.

Reviewing our charts from 2013, we can determine the rushing yards allowed by each defensive end. We’ll start with right end, including Heyward and Brett Keisel. Only counting rushing plays towards right end, right tackle, or right guard, here are the numbers.


As you can see, Heyward’s average is slightly lower than Keisel’s but the difference is fairly negligible.

Now let’s take a look at left end with Heyward and Ziggy Hood. One admission for Heyward is the exclusion of Terrelle Pryor’s 93 yard run that posed a risk of skewing his numbers. It was the only number of the whole study excluded but there’s a strong argument for doing so. That run was not remotely Heyward’s fault. With that in mind, the numbers below.


A staggering difference. Heyward’s average is a full two yards lower than Hood’s. Granted, Heyward’s sample size of 33 plays isn’t ideal statistically speaking, but it’s still representative.

Let’s take it a step further and using Heyward’s numbers, prorate the yards allowed if he picked up each defensive ends snaps for a full season. Meaning, if he hypothetically played Hood’s 90 snaps allowing 2.6 yards per carry instead of Hood’s 4.6.


Obviously, the numbers show the same result, Heyward was clearly more successful than Hood while only marginally better than Keisel, but it really hammers home the point.

In this hypothetical, Heyward would have allowed 208 fewer yards in Hood’s 104 snaps. That’s an average of 13 yards per game. Heyward’s improvement only works out to slightly over one yard per game over Keisel.

Is allowing less than 2.55 yards per carry a feasible number for Cam Thomas? It seems unlikely.

Thomas doesn’t have much experience at either side so he can be taught to play either side. John Mitchell noted that Tuitt primarily played right end in college. It only makes sense to place Heyward at left end in 2014.

How many snaps he actually sees there remains to be seen.

  • Jacque Strappe

    He’s a bad man no matter where you line him up. Wish we had 3 of him.

  • srdan

    lol, or 11

  • James Kling

    I might be missing something, but isn’t the Heyward v. Keisel comparison at RDE and the Heyward v. Hood comparison at LDE ignoring the confounding variable of who played OPPOSITE Heyward in those situations? Perhaps Heyward did better at LDE because Keisel was doing a better job anchoring RDE, and Heyward was more “average” at RDE because Hood wasn’t doing as well at LDE?

  • Alex Kozora

    That variable was lessened by only counting runs that went to the end’s side. So if Heyward is at left end, I only counted runs that were to the right side (off right guard, tackle, end).

  • Kenneth Wilt

    Let’s see how the guys look in camp first. I think some of the YPC could be impacted by a bunch of things including the LB play which are beyond the player’s control. Personally, I would like to see both sides be under the 4.0 mark this year. The Dline is an area of concern for me this year, but also one of the areas I am most excited about. In fact, our D both excites me and scares me.

  • James Kling

    OK, good point.
    It’s my nature to play devil’s advocate with statistics! 🙂

  • Alex Kozora

    Ha, understood. I’ve attempted to eliminate as many outside variables as I can. Of course, some still are in play here, but did the best I could with the data I have. I feel it’s accurate.

  • srdan

    I see your point on the LBs, but our linebackers are only as good as our ends. When Joey, James and so on had monster seasons, it was on Aarons coattail. I’m not trying to diminish our OLBs, but keeping two blockers occupied in front of Jarvis or 93 will help them excel, the other way around doesn’t really work.

  • Steel PAul

    Good stuff Alex. What about pass rush though?

  • Kenneth Wilt

    No, but when the OLB bites so hard to the inside that there is a long gain there is an impact (see Pryor long run). In addition, occupying the Olineman is one thing, the LB still has to make the play. They compliment each other. One is not good without the other.

  • cencalsteeler

    I see Heyward moving to the right side to help JJ out. Tuitt will eventually man the left. If he played left along side Worilds, it would be unbalanced and a lot of teams would run the opposite side toward JJ. If he plays right, the line shows more balance, imo.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    You put him on RDE mainly because our ROLB position is currently the WEAKEST link on defense. Goal wasn’t to make one side the strongest; its to make the most balancest line with good stability. Stephen Tuitt may play RDE for his whole Notre Dame years but his built-body and skillsets belong to LDE. At this point; Cameron Heyward is our if not, best pass-rusher and it only makes more sense to play him RDE. Right side WILL, I mean WILL always be rushed for more yardage mainly due to the scheme and strength of left side on any O-lines (it is a norm for RG to pull to left).

  • Intropy

    How did you treat stunts?

    I think you should also have a look at pressure rate from each side. That’s just as significant as run stopping when picking a side.

  • cencalsteeler

    Excellent post.

  • Alex Kozora

    Jones’ weakness isn’t with his run defense. He proved himself well in that area last year. I don’t see how Heyward is going to help with that. People like to think it’ll provide help to the linebacker. That’s really a cliche that doesn’t hold much water. The tackle is always going to match up against an OLB off the edge no matter who the DE is.

  • Alex Kozora

    I don’t have anything on pass rush right now. But that 2.55 figure would make it difficult for me to change my mind no matter what the pass rush shows.

  • Alex Kozora

    Also, more yardage isn’t the issue. It’s the YPC. And the comparison between the two. Look at those and you’ll see the huge difference between Hood and Heyward.

  • steeltown

    Off topic, but im so happy we snatched Tuitt up in the 2nd Rd, just thinking about a future DL with Heyward and Tuitt as the pillars is extremely exciting. Hopefully Tuitt pans out, he has all of the tools physically and mentally.

  • Heyward had 15 more tackles than Keisel and Woodley last season and tied for 2nd for team sacks. He’s fairly disruptive upfront, and if Thomas or Tuitt can come along on the other side, look out!

  • McClendon beefed up this off-season, which should also help. Little is known about Cam Thomas, but Stephon Tuitt was drafted to be “the guy” soon. Hoping one of these two don’t fall into Ziggy Hood territory. Also note that Josh Mauro is in camp and could end up making the team… and an impact. After all, McClendon was an undrafted player, and the Steeler have success with other undrafted players in the past.

  • WilliamSekinger

    The stats seem to suggest teams running away from Heyward’s side regardless of which side he is on.

  • Steelers@2010

    I’m really excited to see how these guys play this year; I think the D/L will actually be a strength. I’m more concerned about the two OLB’s.

  • Alex Kozora

    Eh, not really. It’s a product of him being moved around to each spot instead of playing just left end like Hood or right end like Keisel.

    The number is still a bit lower but not enough to make me think they were purposely running away from him.

  • Steel PAul

    Unless sack numbers were doubled or something outlandish. That would be interesting then.

  • Steel PAul

    Btw, I agree with you Alex. Seeing how well Worilds was on the left vs right causes me pause to see Cam moving when we just saw him explode.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Other than games against the Jets, Bills, and Browns can you really prove Jarvis Jones is a good running defender? I believe your write-up was good until right up the point where the conversation really begun with pass-rushing downs. That’s where most of my argument were at; Cameron Heyward should just stay right for sake of surprise attacks. You hit the nail on where the tackle will hit OLB no matter what but why flip him over to side if any quarterback just could call audible?

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Also there are BIG difference between James Harrison/Lamar Woodley and Jarvis Jones/Jason Worilds. The drop-off is BIG. Point being; Cameron Heyward’s biggest strength is when he attacks the gap between tackle and guard AND outside of the tackle. You leave him there just because he’s going to be our best pass-rusher on right side, easily. I get you were going at where he’s better at for running downs but with the defense’s transformation do you think that’s what they will do? Stick to old-school line-up? or no? I’m interested in your opinion, again excellent write-up.