With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and there soon being little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first eight games with a 6-2 record, tied for the best in the AFC along with the Patriots and the Chiefs, the latter of whom they have already beaten.
The offense has not lived up to its billing for the most part this year, though the running game has had its moments. Defensively, the sacks have come, and the secondary has improved, but there will always be things to work on.
Player: Cameron Heyward, DE
So let’s talk about the heart and soul of this defense—and a core artery of the whole team—defensive end, defensive captain, Cameron Heyward. The seventh-year player played in just seven games in 2016 during a completely injury riddled campaign that he hardly even wants to recognize.
This year, he’s playing as though he’s had a year’s worth of rest—and not rust—so maybe he’s on to something. Through the halfway point of the year, as I wrote about earlier this week, Heyward is having one of the best seasons of his career, registering 27 tackles and a forced fumble, which he recovered, to go along with five sacks, leading the team.
That he has been as effective as he has been without the benefit of running alongside Stephon Tuitt for the majority of the season I think says something about how great he has been on his own. Even when offenses can commit additional resources to defending him, he has still made an impact.
Of course, to be fair, Javon Hargrave and Tyson Alualu—and even L.T. Walton—have held their own as well, so he hasn’t just been running out there by himself. But a very convincing argument could be made, perhaps should be made, that he has been the best player on defense this year. Maybe even on the whole team.
While his five sacks are impressive, and notable, to be sure—putting him on pace for a career-best 10 sacks—it is merely a barometer, indicative of how consistently and effectively he has been generating pressure against the pass this season, perhaps the best of his career.
The 28-year-old looks no worse for the wear and tear of last season, and is back to his former iron man self, never missing a game, and hardly ever coming off the field. He is just too good, too driven, and too conditioned to justify getting him much time off the field. Oh, and too valuable.