Several times throughout the Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 season I have found myself asking a very simple question, yet without any form of answer visible on the television screen in front of me.
“What is going on with Stephon Tuitt?”
Tuitt, who tallied 6.5 sacks in his sophomore season, hasn’t been nearly the impact player he was in 2015, and there are several reasons for his lack of statistics, but the honest truth is Tuitt isn’t playing poorly. Sure, he isn’t sacking the quarterback, but no one not named Cameron Heyward is doing that either. Tuitt remains a rock for the Steelers in run defense, and could be on the verge of a breakout game.
And would there be a better week for Tuitt to completely go off than against the Baltimore Ravens on their turf? No way, and there is a large reason why he very well could have a huge impact on the upcoming game — the return of Cam Heyward to the lineup.
With Heyward missing the past two games, the Steelers have been gashed by the run, and largely to the left side of the offensive line. You know, the exact spot on the defensive front where Heyward would be located. To go along with the opposition continually running away from Tuitt, he has been dealing with a number of double teams making his job twice as difficult compared to when No. 97 is in the lineup.
Without Cam, Tuitt noticed a big change in the way opposing offenses dealt with him.
"I felt a little bit more pressure as in when I’d go in the game, I felt more double teams," Tuitt told Chris Bradford of the Beaver County Times. "I felt more things that were coming at me, but that’s understandable and that's being smart. Having (Heyward) back in the lineup will take that pressure off in which I can dominate again in the form of one-on-ones."
As I stated earlier, Tuitt has played well in run support, but has yet to register a sack, something which likely eats away at a player. However, with Heyward back, they both realize the offense has a decision to make. Either slide protection to Heyward, or to Tuitt. You typically can’t have both.
"They’ve got to make a decision," Heyward said. "Either they’re going to double me on some passes or they’re going to double him. If they choose to stick on him, I might get a couple one-on-ones, and I’ve got to win them. If it goes the other way around, he’s got to win his."
Winning the one-on-one battle could be the deciding factor for the Steelers’ defensive front being able to put pressure on Joe Flacco and company. Sacks are great, but collapsing the pocket and forcing an early, or arrant, throw could be just as helpful to a defense desperately in search of takeaways.
Cam Heyward helps fix a lot of things, and Stephon Tuitt very well could be on the list. Let’s hope he gets right this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.