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Steelers' Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt form one of NFL's best 3-4 DE duos

"Our relentlessness to keep going to the ball (works)," Stephon Tuitt said of he and teammate Cam Heyward. "We've got great size and we're big people." Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH -- Stephon Tuitt has a numerical goal for the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive end duo of himself and Cam Heyward, but that number has nothing to do with sacks or tackles.

"You have to block us with four people," Tuitt said. "We really want five, but to be honest we're going to do four as our starting number."

Tuitt and Heyward anchored the Steelers' defensive front with a combined 13.5 of the team's 48 sacks, good enough for third in the league. In the team's defensive rebuild that's infused youth and speed, these two set a tone.

The 300-pounders can be used in the Steelers' traditional 3-4 set or slide alongside a 4-3 front in the nickel package. Heyward, in particular, is so versatile that he played 1,116 snaps in 2015, more than any other defensive lineman. Tuitt wasn't far behind with 990, 11th among defensive linemen.

The Steelers would like to keep those players fresher with a deeper lineup, but the way safety Mike Mitchell sees it, the potent duo is hard to take off the field.

"Don't tell Cam I said that, but I feel those two can be the best defensive ends in the league, hands down," Mitchell said. "You look at their size, speed, conditioning. It's not too many big men who can run like they run. We've got guys who can run-block and get after the pass."

With Heyward and Tuitt off the edge, Mitchell said he can basically count to three and then "jump something" because he knows those two will apply pressure .

A team captain and six-year veteran, Heyward isn't concerned with counting blockers. But he knows the two can help each other create favorable matchups that they must win.

The Steelers haven't had a player with double-digit sacks since James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley in 2010, but Heyward's been close with a combined 15 since 2014.

"We just have to dominate whatever’s in front of us," Heyward said. "There will be opportunities throughout the year and difficult times, but I think we can dominate and accomplish our goals. I don't see why we can’t dominate every play."

Heyward prides himself on versatility. He can play anywhere alongside the line -- from the "zero" technique all the way to the "seven." That ability helped Heyward earn a $59-million extension last offseason, and Heyward made Top 100 player lists on NFL.com and ESPN.com.

Tuitt, who enters his third NFL season, also has versatility and loves to get downfield on running plays. Both players are known to chase down everything, and Tuitt has speed downfield at 6-foot-6.

"Our relentlessness to keep going to the ball (works)," Tuitt said. "We've got great size and we're big people."

The Steelers employ some 4-3 formations in part because their ends can handle the switch. Heyward likes mixing and matching because it helps identify weaknesses on an offensive line, where "you can't just pinpoint where we're going to be."

When Heyward sees a weakness on Tuitt's side, he's counting on him to win.

The two might hang out off the field -- both have an Atlanta, Georgia, connection -- but Heyward makes it clear he has three more years in the league than Tuitt.

"I'm the big brother," Heyward said.