When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ second-year starters, I think the only one of the three that one could fairly argue has taken the jump expected of them might be third-round nose tackle Javon Hargrave. While his statistics are not eye-popping, they are nothing to sneeze at, and the coaches want to get him on the field more.
Artie Burns and Sean Davis in the secondary haven’t necessarily blown up into difference-makers just yet, but Davis in particular deserves credit for improving his play over the course of the past few weeks, a trend that hopefully continues into the second half of the season.
When the situation suits the matchup, the Steelers do give him a decent number of opportunities in one-on-one coverage, and he has had some success this year in that role. Midway through the first quarter against the Lions, he was there to blow up the tight end on a short pass, though the receiver did not catch the ball.
Toward the end of the half, however, he did miss a tackle in the open field. It was far from a disastrous result—Dwayne Washington slipped by him on a dump-off pass for a four-yard gain on second and 10—but missed tackles have been a defense-wide problem, with Davis a notable contributor.
He made up for it by once again saving a touchdown in the end zone, the second time that he has done that in the past three weeks. Covering Daniel Fells, he played the pocket and ripped the ball out of the tight end’s grasp.
Midway through the third quarter, the Steelers blitzed Mike Hilton, which put him one-on-one against T.J. Jones out of the slot. He ended up getting beat for a 23-yard gain that set up first and goal at the four-yard line. They did fail to convert in part thanks to his defense subsequently, though.
One other play I would like to look at came in the fourth quarter. This time he drew Ameer Abdullah in the open field, and did a much better job of finishing the tackle. It was far from a thing of beauty, but it got the job done—in fact, going for a loss of a yard on first and 10.
While the defense as a whole has played pretty well—most importantly, either keeping teams out of the red zone, or keeping them from scoring in the red zone, but evidently not both in the same game—they still need to fine-tune their unit for the stretch run. Davis has been building up to better play; let’s hope we see his best football yet in the second half.