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Steelers News: When it comes to the defense, Keith Butler must trust Javon Hargrave

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Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, but if you think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over — think again. For the drama-filled Steelers, things are just heating up, and this is where the daily links article comes in. You might have missed some key news, and we fill you in and give you the latest, and sometimes greatest, news surrounding the Steelers.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at how Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler should start to utilize one of their most versatile tools in their tool box — nose tackle Javon Hargrave. Hargrave spent entirely too much time on the sideline in 2018, and this should change in 2019.

Let’s get to the news:

Carter’s Classroom: Tomlin, Butler must follow their nose

By: Chris Carter, DKPittsburghSports

Javon Hargrave had his best NFL season with 6.5 sacks in just his third year. But his contributions in run defense were just as vital to the chemistry of the defense and provide a challenge the Steelers’ coaches must embrace for their 2019 defense.

We take a look at what that means, why Hargrave is so important, and the grades of the Steelers’ defensive line for 2018:

The Steelers have been known as a 3-4 defense for decades now, but in recent years, that hasn’t been the team’s bread and butter. Their personnel packages consist of more four-man fronts and sub-package use than the 3-4 these days. In fact, they only used a 3-4 defense 302 times in 2018, just 28.93 percent of the total 1,044 defensive snaps.

The idea the 3-4 is the base defense of the Steelers is much more loose of a construct than it has ever been. But part of that is because the Steelers need to adapt to how the NFL plays. The 3-4 is great for run defense and rushing the passer if you have the right personnel, but the formation only allows for four defensive backs, and without a prime cover linebacker such as Ryan Shazier, it exposes the team’s linebackers to difficult coverage matchups.

The Steelers have relied on the 3-4 since 1982 because they had the personnel to fit the scheme. But with only one prime edge rushing linebacker in T.J. Watt and no premier cover linebacker, Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin have tinkered with the defense to find any advantages possible.

That’s led to more sub-package defenses, but it also puts a strain on the team’s two best linemen: Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. Both are very good 3-4 defensive ends, while also being very good defensive tackles in four-man fronts. They also can play as edge rushers in those same four-man line formations.

The Steelers needed relief from having to rely on the two so much, and the surge of Hargrave’s improved play opened the door for that.

Hargrave proved to be a feisty player in his first two years, recording two sacks in each season. But he exploded in 2018 with 6.5 sacks.

(To read more, click the link in the headline above...)

Plaxico Burress says he knows Brown’s future plans

By: Hunter Homistek, DKPittsburghSports

Plaxico Burress is keeping a secret about Antonio Brown.

On a recent episode of “Fair Game” with Kristine Leahy, Burress sat down for a chat, and the topic soon turned to Brown. Having played alongside Brown as a member of the Steelers during the 2012 NFL season, Burress offered some unique insight.

“Us receivers, we can be a little brash or whatever you want to call it,” Burress said. “We all kind of get this stigma or whatever it may be, stereotype, that we’re selfish. I don’t think Antonio’s selfish. I had the opportunity to play with him in 2012, 2013 back in Pittsburgh. He’s the hardest-working man I’ve ever been around in my life. Ever.

“We would get to practice and he would be running so fast and working so hard. I’m like, ‘AB, man, listen. It’s just Wednesday. You need to slow down and relax.’ And he’s like, ‘There’s nothing like dominating other grown men.’”

Brown’s performance and work ethic were never in question. The problem recently is that he missed the Steelers Week 17 showdown vs. the Bengals, following an incident in practice the week before the game, then skipping a scheduled MRI for a knee injury allegedly sustained the previous week in the loss to the Saints. He also ignored all calls and lines of communication from Steelers brass — including Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II.

Burress admits that part is troubling.

“I don’t know. For Mr. Rooney to come out and say that Antonio would not be in training camp is something,” Burress said. “Knowing the Steelers organization and knowing the gold standard that they set, that kind of bothered me a little bit because I’ve never heard Mr. Rooney come out and say something like that, especially about a caliber of player like Antonio Brown. So there has to be something behind it. I would like to see him finish his career in Pittsburgh, but you just never know. The business part of it… it gets tricky sometimes.”

(To read more, click the link in the headline above...)

Steelers could face Patriots in 2019 NFL season opening game

By: Frank Carnevale, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

In recent years, the Super Bowl winning team has hosted the following season’s opening game on a Thursday night, usually in a marque matchup, before a full slate of games kicks off on Sunday.

So after the New England Patriots again hosted the Lombardi Trophy by defeating the Los Angeles Rams in version LIII of the big game, who could they play to open the season?

The Patriots will face off against AFC North opponents next season, so a opening day matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers could be in the cards.

After two years of the Steelers hosting the Patriots at Heinz Field, the Steelers are set to travel to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough next season.

The matchup comes with the added drama of the Patriots raising their sixth championship banner in front of the Steelers, the franchise that had previously held the most championship titles since they defeated the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009.

Though NBC columnist Peter King likes a Cleveland Browns matchup against the Pats to kick off the season, he think the Steelers contest, which he dubs, “Drama Queens at the Model Franchise,” could be good, too.

Other marque opponents for the Patriots could be the Kansas City Chiefs or the Dallas Cowboys. The New York Giants are also slated to visit Foxborough.

But there are rumors the NFL might change up the opening day format.

(To read more, click the link in the headline above...)