Film Room: The Importance Of Javon Hargrave Against New England

When you think of the big names that will shape Sunday’s affair between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, the usual suspects come to mind. Names like Le’Veon Bell, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger but one player who is perhaps not getting the recognition he deserves for his importance in Sunday’s matchup is Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave.

While Hargrave will likely not attract the flash and attention that his peers may garner, the nose tackle’s presence in the trenches is crucial if the Steelers plan to defeat Brady. The blueprint to defeating Brady has always included two concepts – man coverage and the ability to get pressure with a three to four-man rush, specifically the ability to get pressure up the middle. For the Steelers to emerge victorious, they will need Hargrave to disrupt Brady and wreak havoc in the pocket.

With Brady nursing an injured Achilles over the last few weeks, the quarterback’s lateral agility has been called in question and the Miami Dolphins took full advantage last Monday night.

Here is Dolphins’ defensive tackle Jordan Phillips blowing through the B gap to bring down Brady. The Dolphins disrupted Brady all night, totalling six quarterback hits and it showed. Brady completed just 55-percent of his passes and threw two interceptions. If the Steelers look to replicate the Dolphins success, pressure with Hargrave through the A or B gap is the key to that success.

For Hargrave, this is not uncharted territory as the Steelers nose tackle has sacked Brady before on the big stage. Hargrave’s sack on Brady during last year’s AFC Championship game was one of the few bright spots from the Steelers postseason matchup with the Patriots.

Hargrave comes pummeling through the A gap, throwing Patriots’ lineman Joe Thuney out of his way before bringing down Brady. Hargrave will see Thuney and Patriots center David Andrews once again Sunday. Hargrave’s rare mix of strength and quickness leaves a golden opportunity for Hargrave to have his way with the Patriots’ interior line.

Watch Hargrave drive Chicago Bears guard Bradley Sowell back into the pocket before wrapping up Mike Glennon for a sack. Hargrave shows his impressive strength as a one technique on the above play, but the Steelers have shown more creative ways for their nose tackle to generate pressure.

Hargrave, lined up right over the center uses his quick hands to shuffle his way into Matthew Stafford’s face. And while Hargrave does not get a sack, his pressure forces a poor throw and an incomplete pass.

This simple formula that worked against Stafford on the play above will work just the same on Brady. Disrupting Brady in the pocket will lead to poor throws which when added together produces the Steelers’ best chance at victory.

The only concern is if Hargrave will see the field enough on passing downs to make that difference. Hargrave has been substituted out quite frequently this season but the Steelers’ recent game plan shows that their nose tackle will be a part of their pass rush moving forward.

With the loss of Ryan Shazier, the Steelers are focused on keeping their best defenders on the field. Alex Kozora wrote about the Steelers new 3-2-6 defensive formation earlier this week, a formation designed partially to keep Hargrave on the field. Hargrave also logged 39 snaps last week against the Baltimore Ravens, tying his season high.

The Steelers and Patriots matchup is going to be determined in a series of battles. A battle of two of the AFC’s best quarterbacks and coaches but do not undermine perhaps the biggest battle of all – the battle in the trenches. For the Steelers and Hargrave, this is one battle they cannot afford to lose.

About the Author

Daniel Valente
Steelers fan from birth, spending majority of my free time looking up statistics. Had the honor of meeting Mike Vanderjagt shortly after his infamous missed field goal in the 2005 Divisional Round. Currently pursuing a Journalism degree. Follow me on Twitter @StatsGuyDaniel
  • Sam Clonch

    I gotta fever, and the only cure…is some more Grave Digga!!!

  • StrengthOfVictory

    *the only prescription (from an SNL fan)

  • Sam Clonch

    Nice. I tried to find the skit on youtube, but SNL must be keeping it off, cause I can’t find the actual skit. Just crappy re-mix videos that I have no desire to watch.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I’m only a stickler because I like your style. 🙂

  • Stairway7

    Yes, but please don’t drop him in coverage.

  • The Tony

    haha yea there was zero chance Hargrave was gonna make that play on Woodhead

  • Ray Istenes

    The gif against the Bears is why Wobble needs to be on the field a lot. Brady when healthy can’t scramble. Push the center right back into him. All day long.

  • TroymanianDevil

    One major key with Brady is to not let him step up in the pocket. There plenty of other things that need to be done (obviously,) but this is probably his go to move for buying extra time in the pocket

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    What about a 4 man front withCam, Tuitt, Gravedigger & Alualu with Watt, Vincenzo and Bud behind them…at least periodically?

  • Josh Carney

    Great piece, Daniel. I think Hargrave has a massive impact on Sunday’s game, both as a pass rusher and a run stopper. No chance Andrews can handle him 1v1. I hope Butler loads up against a weak Pats interior OL.

  • capehouse

    Why not Hargrave in the Nickel?

  • Steve

    In the Nickle Hargrave is replace by Gay. Putting Tuitt, Heyward on the DL with two Olb.

  • Steve

    Joe Thuney who plays LG for the Pats is the weak link and will have either Hargrave or Heyward over him. Both men should have a good day going after Brady up the gut.

  • WeWantDaTruth

    Pressure up the middle…tight on the WRs. Can’t let Brady play pitch & catch against us like he’s always done.

  • MC

    Hargrave’s been quiet last couple games. Hoping this is the one he breaks out of his slump, we could really use it.

  • Ichabod

    We need big games from Tuit and Hayward also…this is where they earn their big pay checks

  • jsteeler

    This product from South Carolina State is going to be huge. 1 sack last year and 1 pressure. 2 sacks this year and 2 pressures.

  • John Phillips

    Swap Bud for James H. and I’m in.

  • capehouse

    Gay comes in for Dime duty only. Nickel is all 4 LBs, 2 DL and Hilton comes in to cover the slot. I’m saying run a 3-3-5.

  • Jim Foles

    Seeing a bit more Walton would be good too.

  • Charles Haines

    I would pay money to see that for at least a half.