Divisional play is rough in the trenches, because you play the same guy at least twice in a year. And as they say, you have to draft to win your division. The Bengals drafted 6-foot-6, 315-pound guard Cordell Volson, with the hope of matching the rookie up, in part, against the 12-year Steelers Captain Cam Heyward, who has been a stalwart over the years against the Bengals.
This is easily one of the key matchups for this week's Classic Jurassic Meat-Eater Matchup, and is a rematch from the first game of the 2022 season.
Volson came into the season as the only Bengals starter to play at all in the preseason. I'm sure that part of him being the lone starter on the line to play in preseason had to do with wanting to get him ready for the ensuing battle with Heyward, besides preparing him for life in the NFL in general.
He is a strong, well-grounded player with length that could be problematic if he were a waist-bender, especially so in the close quarter confines of the trenches.
Volson has a relatively low pad level when coming off the ball and also in setting up in pass pro, considering his height. And that's because he is a knee-bender, which keeps him from getting too far out in front of his skis in run blocking, or making him head heavy in pass pro, which makes for easy uppercuts for a dip and rip pass rusher.
When he comes off the ball and run blocks, Volson has a nice "rip-to-rack" double-fist punch to the rib cage when he's in people-moving mode. He will attempt to keep a flat back and engage his four-wheel drive to tractor his man out of the picture. Volson has good feet, is athletic and uses his hands well.
That's all all nice and good if you can pull it off.
On the first play of their matchup in Cincinnati, Heyward came off the ball and bull rushed Volson straight back, threw him to the side and dropped Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow like a bad habit. Since then, it's been a growth period for Volson. But it's a tough way to begin your pro career.
The Cincy offensive line has been averaged giving up 2.7 sacks per game after allowing 13 sacks in the first two games. The Steelers ripped them for seven in their first go around. The Bengals have gotten better, but there are still sacks to be had out there. The Bengals are 5-1 when allowing three sacks or less.
Meanwhile, the proverbial "Apex Predator," Cam Heyward, awaits the arrival of the Bengals and Volson for round two when they kickoff this Sunday at Acrisure stadium.
Heyward stands 6-foot-5, and 295-pounds. Heyward has, quite possibly, the best modern-day bull-rush technique in the league, or he is at least certainly in the conversation. Back in my day, bull rushers were taught to put their forehead in your opponent's chin, stunning him.
Follow that up with "climbing" the body with power leverage, to a late lockout of the arms. Obviously, with the change in rules and more awareness of head trauma, the lockout of the arms to the opponent's chest replaces the forehead to the chin. That is exactly what Cam is so well schooled at technically.
Possessing a nasty lockout, Heyward uses tremendous arm and ham-hock strength to lockout and drive his man backward in pass rushing. And where Cam really translates the power, is with his low pad level. You can have all the strength in the world, but if you don't maintain proper leverage, it will do you no good.
It's a Chuck Noll mantra, "low man wins." You can see that when Heyward has to hold the point on a double-team block. Cam will get low and throw his hip into the drive man, while neutralizing the post-man.
Cam weighs in with 34 tackles, three sacks, seven quarterback hits and five tackles for loss. Equally adept at run defense or pass rushing, Heyward is one of the premier defensive tackles in the league.
And as I've said before, Cam Heyward is the closest thing Pittsburgh will ever see of Mean Joe Greene again.