A more talented offensive line doesn’t always mean a better one. At least, not initially. The Cincinnati Bengals overhauled their front five by bringing in four new starters. But their debut looked rocky yesterday, struggling to sustain a steady run game and allowing seven sacks on QB Joe Burrow, continuing the trend of pressure he’s faced throughout his young pro career.
Appearing on The Rich Eisen Show Monday afternoon, Heyward explained how he took advantage of the Bengals’ new unit.
“They had four new starters and obviously they’re gonna get better as the season keeps going on,” he told the show. “But for us, we’ve had cohesiveness and we’ve been together.”
For Cincinnati, everyone except for LT Jonah Williams was playing in their first game as Bengals, and Williams struggled against Alex Highsmith on the edge. Left guard Cordell Volson was a rookie, pitted against Heyward for most of the game, and Heyward gave him a warm welcome into the NFL.
Heyward finished the day with two pressures and a sack, the latter of which came on the first play of the season. Another sack was wiped out by a Cam Sutton hold.
Center Ted Karras, right guard Alex Cappa, and right tackle La’el Collins were also new to the team. On paper, the group is a serious upgrade compared to a year ago; an offensive line is the sum of its parts more than the play of any individual. The Bengals chose not to play its starters for the bulk of the preseason, making its starting five a group that’s yet to gel. And Pittsburgh took advantage.
But an impactful Steelers’ pass rush is nothing new. Pittsburgh’s led or tied for the league lead in sacks five years running and is off to a hot start for a sixth. Heyward believes his front can whoop up on any opposing line.
“We feel like whoever we play, we’re gonna have success in getting after the quarterback. It’s just about getting those opportunities and we maximized them and then we were able to let our DBs pick off a lot of balls.”
Interestingly enough, the Steelers didn’t record a pressure on any of Burrow’s four interceptions. But Pittsburgh effectively used its rush and coverage in this game to pick its offense up and propel the Steelers to victory. It’s likely to be a theme of the season and a mission that’s even tougher without T.J. Watt, who will miss at minimum weeks with his pec injury.