While most of the Steelers injury news has reasonably been focused on QB Ben Roethlisbeger this week, there’s a serious injury to the Pittsburgh defense that deserves some attention. The Steelers declared defensive lineman Cameron Heyward out for this Sunday’s game against the Patriots, while linebacker Ryan Shazier’s status is still undetermined.
INJURY UPDATE— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 18, 2016
Out: Ben, Heyward, Wallace
Practice participation will be our guide: Wheaton, Shazier, M. Gilbert, Golden, Mitchell, DeAngelo
Heyward is the Steelers best defensive player and while Shazier has been a middling linebacker, he registered two tackles for loss against the Patriots in the 2015 season opener and added a pair of additional stops.
“There’s no question that Heyward and Ryan are very good players,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on Tuesday. “They’ve got a lot of guys we’re going to have to keep track of. They have guys at all three levels of the defense that have been disruptive.
“Heyward is certainly one of their better players as a guy that’s been consistent both in playing the run and getting after the quarterback. He understands their scheme, he plays it very well.
“Shazier has got great speed, he’s very long, he gets his hands on balls in coverage. He’s a very difficult guy to handle in blitz pickup because of his quickness and his speed. He’s also powerful and he’ll strike you, so those two guys, we’re going to prepare hard for them. If they play, they play, but we’re going to assume that they will.”
The Steelers still have some consistently good talent on their defense in CB Ross Cockrell, CB William Gay, and DL Stephon Tuitt, and other players like ED James Harrison S Robert Golden flash at times, but Heyward is the heart of that defensive front.
There’s a reason the Miami Dolphins racked up 222 rushing yards against the Steelers in week 6, the first game Heyward has missed in his entire career.
The Patriots interior line has also struggled with pressure, so possibly removing Shazier and his speed from the equation will make it easier on the linemen. The Steelers bye week comes after this week, so don’t be surprised if Pittsburgh gives their key injured players an extra week of rest.