The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans are set to square off on Thursday Night Football, but when thinking about the Pittsburgh defense the first thing many fans think of is the team’s improved pass defense.
Rightfully so, but what might go under the radar is the team’s front four, and how they have played a major role in the improvement in the back end of the defense. Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu and L.T. Walton have been anchors for the defensive line, but the player who certainly doesn’t get much credit, or would be considered underrated, is none other than Javon Hargrave.
The second year nose tackle doesn’t have mind-boggling statistics, but what he brings to the defense on an every game basis doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet. Through 10 games, Hargrave has tallied 21 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 pass defense and 1 tackle for loss, but as I said earlier, what he brings to the defense doesn’t show up on the stat sheet all the time.
Hargrave, with his natural low center of gravity, is able to push the center back into the quarterback to not permit the quarterback to step up into the pocket. Doing this often equates to a clean up sack for players like Heyward, Tuitt, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Their success it directly related to Hargrave doing his job, and doing it well.
On top of his amazing pass rushing skills, Hargrave also does his job in run support. Although he isn’t the run stuffer Casey Hampton was at the nose tackle position, he holds his own by taking up more than one blocker, allowing the linebackers to flow the gaps and make plays.
The one aspect of Keith Butler’s defense which certainly keeps Hargrave bottled up is how the team deploys their sub packages. When the defense decides go get out of their base 3-4 look and move to the nickel or dime sub packages, Hargrave comes off the field. In other words, on a standard series Hargrave might be one or two snaps before leaving the field for an extra defensive back.
Such is the life of a nose tackle in the modern day NFL, but it doesn’t diminish what Hargrave brings to the defense whenever he is on the field. How good as he truly been this season? Enough myself, and many others, believe the Steelers would be better keeping him on the field more than they have been in the second half. Of all the second year players who are turning heads, it is Hargrave who seems to have improved the most, and that speaks volumes.