Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward emerged as one of the team’s key players on the defensive side of the ball last year, but he hasn’t quite been able to continue the pace he set for himself last season thus far.
Through three preseason games, his play up to this point has in general been fairly pedestrian, though slowly improving through each game. At least it seemed to be improving early on in last week’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but it proved to be a rather uneven performance.
His disgust and frustration over the defense’s performance against the Eagles—particularly their reserves during the first two drives of the second half, is quite understandable after going over the game again, though I have a hard time believing that his play will stay as it has been once we move beyond the preseason.
Considering he was playing against Evan Mathis for most of the night, admittedly, it does make more sense that Heyward would have his ups and downs. Mathis is one of the best interior linemen in the league, but Heyward had the upper hand on his particular play, making excellent use of his reach to keep disengaged and moving down the line to swallow up LeSean McCoy after a gain of one.
It was at that point that I initially began to feel some anticipation over what would come next for Heyward during this game, but admittedly there was just as much bad as good to follow, if not more bad than good.
It would only be few plays later that he would be dominated by Mathis and Jason Peters, who double teamed him a few times throughout the night and completely stymied him every time.
It’s one thing to occupy two defenders, but it doesn’t serve much purpose when you get annihilated. Heyward was pushed several yards down the line and onto the ground on this occasion.
Above is another instance, still from the first quarter, of Heyward being completely neutralized on a running down by Mathis, this time after receiving a chip in support by center Jason Kelce. The ball carrier was able to run right behind Heyward’s back on this play.
Heyward and the rest of the Steelers’ starting defense was still in the game throughout the third quarter. That fact is indicative of the struggles that the unit had as a whole on the night, the performance demanding further reps in the hopes of seeing improvement.
The Eagles’ second-team defense scored touchdowns on both of their drives, but at least Heyward had one sort of highlight play in the process.
On the first play of their second drive of the half, he blew up guard Andrew Gardner, knocking him to the ground, and then crashing into center David Molk to allow Troy Polamalu to fly in and make the tackle for a loss of six on the play.