In the two games since the Pittsburgh Steelers placed defensive captain Cameron Heyward on the injured reserve list, the defense has improved both in terms of the running game and in getting the quarterback on the ground. while the Colts last night racked up some garbage rushing yards on the ground on the final drive, Frank Gore was held to just 28 yards on 15 carries.
And the Steelers recorded three sacks a game after getting eight, both of them on the road. Rookie defensive tackle Javon Hargrave has played a key role in that improvement, as he has a sack on back-to-back games now, the first two sacks of his professional career.
The Steelers brought Colts backup quarterback Scott Tolzien down three times, including on the first play of the game on a cornerback blitz by William Gay. James Harrison also contributed his second sacks in as many games, and his fourth of the season to take the team lead.
But Hargave’s sack was the most impressive of the trio, as it demonstrated his phenomenal athleticism and agility for a man of his size. And it really spoke to exactly the sort of athletic ability that the Steelers saw in him leading up to the draft that had them take a chance on a small-school player in the third round.
Coming midway through the third quarter, Hargrave started out his rush by swimming over the inside shoulder of the left guard before the center came over to pick him up. As Tolzien flushed out of the pocket to his left, the rookie muscled his way through the center and made an athletic diving one-arm tackle, tripping up the quarterback by his trailing leg.
The play resulted in a loss of seven yards and set up a third and 15, but, unfortunately, the defense allowed a conversion on the following play. In fact, the Colts got all the way down to the one-yard line by the end of that drive, but ultimately still failed to score.
Hargrave also posted a career-high five tackles over the course of the game, including four of the solo variety, which gives him 18 tackles on the season. It was his fourth game of the year with multiple tackles, which is not nothing considering how limited his playing time at times has been.
According to Nathan Jahnke for Pro Football Focus, Hargrave had “his best pass rushing game”, with the site crediting him with a sack, a hit, and three additional hurries, for five total pressures on the quarterback over the course of the game. That is exactly the sort of production the Steelers need to get from players like him in Heyward’s absence.
After the game, head coach Mike Tomlin did say that Hargrave finished the game with a hand injury. The team will have extra rest before the next game, however, so hopefully there is nothing to be concerned about.