The Pittsburgh Steelers can’t stop Le’Veon Bell from playing pick-up basketball at L.A. Fitness or stop Antonio Brown from speeding on McKnight Road, but they will try to prevent the Carolina Panthers from running all over them Thursday night at Heinz Field.
The Panthers (6-2) rank No. 2 in the NFL in rushing at 143.9 yards a game, and present a potent 1-2 punch in quarterback Cam Newton (73 carries for 342 yards and four touchdowns) and running back Christian McCaffrey, who has rushed for 502 yards and three touchdowns and has 49 receptions for 378 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward, who has 2.5 sacks this season, addressed the challenge of keeping Carolina in check as the Steelers (5-2-1) start the second half of the season:
Q: How can the Steelers stop Cam Newton?
A: “You’ve got to be sound as a defense. It’s not going to be just one person. You’ve got to put pressure up the middle. We’ve all got to tackle. It’s got to be gang-tackling. It’s not going to be just one guy doing the job. We all have to get to the ball and we have to make the quarterback pay for running the ball.”
Q: Is it incumbent to hit a big quarterback?
A: “Yeah, legally (laughs). I’m not trying to get in trouble here. But you’ve got to make an offense pay if they’re going to run with their quarterback. I’m talking about gang-tackling. I’m talking about making sure we get 11 guys, if we can, to the ball because I was saying something earlier to my guys: ‘There’s no way you can duck 10 bullets. If everybody is shooting their shot, someone is bound to hit.’ It’s going to have to be a group effort.”
Q: Does Christian McCaffrey remind you of anybody?
A: “He’s very similar to a Reggie Bush type, where he’s able to come out of the backfield, he’s able to run the ball very well. I think he’s just got home-run ability and he’s able to stay on his feet to make some big plays happen.”
Q: Is there anything you can do schematically to get the double teams away from you?
A: “You learn to expect that. You just deal with it. If you get the doubles, that means somebody else is open.”
Q: Stephon Tuitt has had a sack in three straight games. Is that a result of the double teams?
A: “No, I’m not taking credit for that. That dude’s whipping blocks. He’s beating the one-on-ones when he can. I want to hit home sometime. I’m missing out on some sacks. I’ve got to learn how to finish them.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at [email protected] or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.