SCU’s 2021 Steelers Awards: Outstanding performer on defense

Steel City Underground presents our “Steelers Awards” to players on the Pittsburgh Steelers team that had outstanding performances throughout the 2021-22 NFL regular season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers fielded a defense that was not quite as stingy during the 2021-22 NFL regular season, across the board, as they have in recent years. Still, the defense was responsible for much of the success the Steelers did have. Although Steel City Underground’s “Outstanding performer on defense” did not get as many accolades, nationally, as counterpart T.J. Watt, we identified the achievements and difference-making plays of Cameron Heyward enough that he was our choice for this award.

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As part of what many Steelers fans see as the “old guard”, or players on the team who have the most veteran experience in Pittsburgh, Heyward got off to a hot start and consistently played to a high level. He finished the regular season with 89 tackles (53 solo), 15 tackles for a loss, 17 quarterback hits, 10.0 sacks, nine passes defensed, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and one interception.

Heyward’s total snap count during the regular season was 1,000 in 17 games. In Week 10 and Week 15, Heyward logged 94 and 91 percent of the snaps on defense respectively. His time on the field was a bonus for Pittsburgh’s defense, especially in situations that called for leadership on a defensive line that was without Stephon Tuitt (season-long) and Tyson Alualu (who only played two games).

During the 2020-21 season, Heyward recorded his first interception; he earned his second this past season during Week 9 against the Chicago Bears.

In Week 11, on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Steelers’ defense was without T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Joe Haden. Regardless, in a situation that saw Pittsburgh erase a 17-point deficit in the final quarter of the game to get within seven points, Heyward made a game-saving play. On 2nd-and-10 from the Chargers 25-yard line, Heyward got into Justin Herbert‘s face at batted the ball into the air and into the waiting arms of Cameron Sutton. Although the Steelers tied the game before taking a three-point lead, the Chargers were able to pull away with the win.

Heyward’s 15 tackles for a loss was one short of his career-best (16) in 2017 but bumped his career total to 101. His 89 tackles (53 solo) were a career-best. Ten sacks were the second-highest total of his career (12 in 2017). Heyward set a new career-best with his nine passes defensed to bump that total to 42. In 11 seasons, Heyward has never played in less than 15 games for the Steelers outside of 2016 and started in all 17 games during the 2021-22 NFL regular season.

His performance earned Heyward a fifth trip to the Pro Bowl in five years and 1st Team All-Conference honors (PFW), 1st Team All-Pro (AP) 1st Team All-Pro (FW), and 1st Team All-Pro (PFF) honors for 2021-22.

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