Cameron Heyward coming alive for Steelers' defense

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

One agile and heads-up play by Cameron Heyward personified a defensive line that's played with aggressive and savvy in the Steelers' first two games this season.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward threw up his meaty left arm.

He was reading Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton more than trying to get past his blocker. Sealing up potential run lanes, and making sure the pocket was, at worst, staying uncomfortably close to the passer.

Dalton gave Heyward and the Steelers' secondary a look to their right, an attempt to look off coverage. He quickly turned and fired to the defense's left, expecting a clear lane.

It may not seem like it was much, but Heyward, a right-hander, got his left arm in the air, and tipped the pass upward.

At the right of making a simple swatted pass seem magnanimous in the Steelers' 20-10 loss, it was the highlight of Heyward's night. And judging by his general lack of production over his 2-plus years of experience, it may be his career highlight.

Heyward's play personified the best thing the Steelers have going for themselves as a team; an active and aware defensive line. He didn't quite reach unblockable status, but he caused enough disruption (two tipped passes on the night) to make onlookers notice the Steelers' front three is getting much more push and is in position to make more plays through the first two games this season than it seemed they did all of 2012.

Heyward added a hit on Dalton, as did Brett Keisel. Ziggy Hood led the linemen with six tackles. This is a defense playing without its quarterback - linebacker Larry Foote - and got middling-to-poor pass coverage from Foote's replacements, Kion Wilson and Vince Williams. While LaMarr Woodley showed once again he's back to form, the combination of Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones on the other side isn't producing much on a per-play basis.

The defensive line has had to star alone. The emergence of Heyward shows, if nothing else, there is a strong foundation in place, and the continued improvement of Jones (nearly shut out in pass rush situations) can bring to the Steelers a stronger sense of urgency in getting after the quarterback.

Until then, there's always the idea of tipping a few passes.

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