I said earlier today that the only thing that has been consistently good for the Pittsburgh Steelers so far has been the performance of wide receiver Antonio Brown, but perhaps that is not entirely fair, even if it might be technically true.
When he has been on the field, second-year nose tackle Javon Hargrave has certainly been consistently very good. But he hasn’t been given enough opportunities to be on the field to put him in the discussion, even in spite of the fact that Stephon Tuitt has to date still played just two snaps on the season.
The former third-round draft pick did see his highest snap total of the season on Sunday, logging 38 snaps, the vast majority of that coming against the run. Now, you might scratch your head as to how I could say he played well despite logging most of his time against the run on a day that the Bears put up 220 rushing yards.
The simple fact of the matter is that it wasn’t the interior of the defensive line that was the problem with the run defense against the Bears. It was pretty much everything else. Chicago ran so much outside zone plays stretching to the boundaries that a nose tackle can only play such a minor role in affecting that.
I went back and looked as the Steelers’ work against the run on Sunday, and it’s pretty clear that the nose tackle had little chance of doing much, though his one tackle in the game did come against the run and went for a one-yard loss.
The Bears do deserve a lot of credit. They did a lot of interesting and creative things with their running game, including a lot of misdirections that the Steelers could not counter. I noticed at least one play in which there was a designed cutback for both the running back and his leading fullback right after the handoff.
The truth is that by and large, Hargrave did his part in the running game. A lot of the runs were stretch runs, and he showed as well as you might expect him to moving laterally and maintaining his gap. But if the play doesn’t come near his gap, there is little he can do.
The passing game was secondary for Chicago on Sunday, but Hargrave was a handful for the offensive line in those instances. He only got about a dozen snaps rushing the passer, but he managed a sack and a couple of other hurries for his efforts in that small body of work.
The small-school product already has two sacks in this early season, matching his total for the regular season during his rookie year. I don’t think anybody has improved more from last year to this year so far. Which makes it all the more perplexing why he had not seen the field more prior to Sunday. According to Pro Football Focus, he has the highest pass rush productivity among all interior defensive linemen who have played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps with two sacks and eight hurries on 37 pass rushes.