Life in the trenches tends to be dirty, grimy and largely overlooked by Joe average fan. The work done in between the tackles can be confusing and look like a mass brawl in an area the size of somebody's living room. Believe it or not, there are fundamentals, technique and specific assignments being adhered to, concentrated on, and the out-and-out brawling really has a purpose.
And the purposeful battle to focus on in this week's Meat-Eater Matchup is the 12-year veteran of trench fighting, Captain Cam Heyward grabbing dirt across from the Dolphins left guard Liam Eichenberg.
I have to laugh, thinking back to Cam's first week in training camp years ago. By the end of the first week the hyper-aggressive Heyward had fought every offensive linemen in camp. He had a chip on his shoulder, and he certainly proved he wasn't intimidated by anyone. As we were watching from the safety of the sidelines up at Saint Vincent College, I remember turning to Tunch Ilkin after the latest of his brawls and said, "Look out Chalooch, he's gonna start looking for the retired alumni linemen to go after."
The quintessential "T-Rex," Captain Cam comes into Hard Rock Stadium standing 6-foot-5 and 295 pounds. The second-year youngster, Eichenberg, checks in at 6-foot-6, 306 pounds.
Heyward is a throwback to dinosaur football in attitude and modern football techniques in execution. When Cam entered the league, head butts were still heavily relied upon to stuff offensive linemen trying move people. Two combatants would square off, charge out of their stances and have at it while "ripping to rack," or using their heavily taped and padded hands to punch to the chest and lock on to the opponents chest plate.
Now Cam has mastered the art of full length lockout of the arms, "spearing" his hands to his opponents shoulder pads and mastering the body position of a sumo grand champion taking on the charge of another large prairie mammal. It's literally like catching a car rolling downhill. Strength, body posture and attitude all come together to weather the storm defensively when you are filling your designated run gap.
Taking that same posture and lockout to his pass rushing repertoire, Cam will lockout and use his great strength, leverage and power to overwhelm his opponent, who, of course, is trying to stop him.
Once you've seen the tape from a few years ago of Cam overwhelming Colts' standout Pro Bowl guard Quinton Nelson, literally weaponizing Nelson's keester by driving him back into the quarterback — in this case, Jacoby Brisset, knocking Brisset out of the game — you'll see what I'm talking about.
Given that Eichenberg tends to "catch" rather than punch his pass rushing opponent, he often gets bulled, or driven backwards. He doesn't use his length on the inside like he could. This favors Cam. Because Eichenberg stands tall, (and is tall), but doesn't "fight" tall, he ends up constantly trying to stop straight ahead pressure coming at him, while giving up large amounts of real estate. This is because he tends to lose the inside hand fighting position and rely on his size to "hunker-down-dawg." And once you are able to bull rush Eichenberg, you're only a rush away to throw an uppercut or swim on him, or run a twist stunt.
This is where Cam and company can shine. In last week's game, the Vikings recorded five sacks and an astounding 13 quarterback hits, according to ESPN. Besides Tua Tagovailoa sustaining concussions in previous games, backup Teddy Bridgewater suffered the same fate, while rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson got knocked out of the Vikings game with a hand injury.
Eichenberg is big and strong, but he looks weightlifter strong, rather than athletically strong. In run blocking combos with the center, Eichenberg's pad level is inconsistent, and if you can't bend your knees low enough to get movement, you're gonna have problems. The longer you stay on a double team, the more likely you are to whiff on a run through linebacker.
Heyward can close-quarter-combat and grapple with Eichenberg, and unbalance him. And once the games or twist stunts start, Eichenberg has shown trouble in identifying the trailer coming around, or letting the primary rusher get in between he and offensive tackle Greg Little. Once a rusher gets in between two offensive linemen on a twist-stunt, the sanctity of the pocket becomes a house of cards, and the end comes rather quickly.
To be sure, this week's meat-eater matchup could well tip the balance of the trenches to the Steelers favor if Captain Cam dominates like I think he can.