The Pittsburgh Steelers will be without star defensive end Cameron Heyward for the remainder of the season. With that, all eyes should look toward Ricardo Matthews to potentially fill the role.
The loss of Cameron Heyward is painful. Heyward was the team leader in sacks, the leader of the defensive front, and one of the most enthusiastic and positive presences on a defense that has been shaky over the past few years.
Replacing him will be difficult, if not impossible. Without him in place, the defense has struggled against the run and has failed to generate the necessary pressure to force quarterbacks into uncomfortable situations.
While it’s likely that the Steelers will set up a rotation of backups including Daniel McCullers and LT Walton to attempt to fill the void, it’s Ricardo Matthews who most of the pressure and eyes are on.
Matthews has been a long-time backup in the NFL, drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the 7th round of the 2010 draft. Over the course of the last seven seasons and three different teams, Matthews has never found himself in a starting role but has stood as a serviceable backup during his career.
To his name, Matthews has just four sacks and two forced fumbles, but now in a starting role, it’ll be interesting to see what Pittsburgh can get out of him. The Steelers acquired him this offseason during free agency. He arrived along with Tight End Ladarius Green from San Diego.
The Steelers can’t expect to get a star. They can’t expect to get someone to fill the shoes of Cam Heyward and be without loss. However, for the Steelers defensive line to succeed, Matthews must step up and contribute alongside the other players that will be rotated in.
In his final season at Cincinnati University, Matthews displayed the ability to create pressure, finishing that season with 3.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He has the ability to get into the backfield and a lot of that will be needed if the Steelers plan to stop the run.
The Steelers have been constantly bashed for their defense over the past few years, but have had a consistently stout run defense. In past years, they have often ranked among the top 10 in rushing defense and have been extremely good at containing good running backs.
That has not been the case this season, as the Steelers rank 18th in the league and have seen running backs like Jay Ajayi and Ezekiel Elliot tear them apart. Matthews has yet to contribute this year for Pittsburgh, but the Steelers will have to change that as they make their push for the playoffs.
Pittsburgh won’t be getting another Cam Heyward, but the hope is that Matthews can be serviceable enough to help turn this defense around.