By Danny Cox
After a promising start to the 2016 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have lost four games in a row and are in danger of completely falling out of the playoff race. They have dealt with a large number of injuries and on-field problems that have changed the way they play this season. The Steelers started out 4-1 with victories against the Redskins, Bengals, Chiefs and Jets, but things have certainly taken turn for the worse.
Now, the Steelers have been dealt another big blow on the injury front and it means losing of one of the leaders of their defense — and of the team as a whole.
A torn pectoral muscle will keep Cameron Heyward on the sidelines for the remainder of 2016
Defensive end Cameron Heyward revealed on his Instagram account that he is going to miss the rest of the 2016 season due to a pectoral injury. The injury occurred during the Steelers’ 35-30 heartbreaking loss to the Dallas Cowboys this past Sunday. Heyward had already missed two games this season, but still racked up three sacks, 21 total tackles, and has been a huge force on the right side of the defensive line.
Heyward is an obvious leader for the Steelers, who selected him as a defensive team captain and the franchise has faith in him as well. Last season, Heyward was given a six-year contract extension worth upwards of $59 million to keep him in Pittsburgh for many years to come. Up until 2016, he had not really dealt with any kind of injury problems, but this year has been different.
The two games he has already missed this season were due to a hamstring injury and now the torn pectoral is going to cause him to miss seven more games. With a defense already ranked 22nd in the NFL while Heyward was on the field, this loss is truly going to hurt them even more.
Tomlin sees on-field problems as “popcorn” and doesn’t foresee making big changes
Obviously, one major change is going to be made for the Steelers and that is replacing Heyward at on the defensive line. Ricardo Mathews, who is in his first year with Pittsburgh after the last two in San Diego, will take over on the d-line. There is also the matter of wide receiver Sammie Coates, who has been playing with “a busted hand” that has limited his playing time and ability.
It seems to many that the problems plaguing the Steelers are much more than just injuries, but head coach Mike Tomlin kept referring to the on-field difficulties as just “popcorn.” He sees them as a number of small problems and plays that simply aren’t being completed, and seems to believe that a few adjustments could correct all of them.
“We’re open to doing things differently, but we also believe in the way that we do things,” Tomlin said on Tuesday. “If I thought the incidents were running rampant, then I would respond accordingly. It’s been popcorn. It’s a global thing.”
This collection of small problems is adding up to one big problem: they are causing more losses than wins. Tomlin believes that if his players could simply be more consistent and follow things through entirely with a run stop, interception or long run, then there would be some differences seen in the standings.
That seems like a rather logical and simple explanation of how to fix the problems of the Steelers and get them more victories. Still, if it were that simple, every other team in the NFL would follow that plan. If something doesn’t give this weekend against the 0-10 Cleveland Browns, others may be calling for bigger changes to be made in the Steelers franchise.