In 2013 the Pittsburgh Steelers had trouble stopping the run for the first time in a long while. They finished the year ranked 21st defending the run, allowing 1,849 yards. The 21st place finish was the first time the Steelers defense failed to rank in the top ten against the run since 2004. Part of their issues against the run were due to their inability to stop the long run. Last year they allowed seven runs of 20 or more yards, including the 93 yard run to Terrelle Pryor on the first play of the game against the Oakland Raiders. Just one preseason game into the 2014 season, the issue of stopping the long run still appears to be present after Rashad Jennings of the Giants scampered for 73 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers first team defense last Saturday.
On the Jennings run, Cameron Heyward did not maintain his gap as the Giants running back ran through a huge hole into the open field. Cortez Allen and William Gay had a chance to make a tackle but they were unable to get a hand on Jennings as the Giants scored their first touchdown of the game. Heyward was not necessarily at fault for the touchdown but he took the blame for it when he talked to Steelers TV after the game. “I’m fully responsible. I didn’t get it done.” Heyward said. He also added, “I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I messed up for this team. It won’t happen again.”
Both defensive captains from last year’s squad are no longer with the team. Ryan Clark moved onto Washington, while Brett Keisel is still a free agent, despite rumors of his return. The defense has gotten younger and in order to succeed they will need people to step up and take some accountability when things go poorly. It seems like Heyward wants to fill those shoes. In fact Scott Brown of ESPN predicted two weeks ago that by the end of the preseason Heyward will be named a team captain by his teammates. Personally I think it’s about time one of the Steelers recent first round picks have finally began to take leadership role on this team. Maurkice Pouncey is another player that’s taking a vocal role in the locker room but the defense needs a voice. Cameron Heyward might be the perfect choice to fill the void left by Keisel and Clark. He is the arguably the most stable starter on the defensive line. Lawrence Timmons and Troy Polamalu are not vocal leaders, they lead by example instead. Cam Heyward is beginning to act like the guy to take the Steelers into the next era of hopefully Steel Curtain-esque defense and I am glad he is stepping up to do just that.
What do you think Steelers Nation? Is Cameron Heyward the right person to lead this defense?