2016 South Side Questions: How Would Mathews Perform In Hargrave’s Absence?

Ricardo Mathews Steelers

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: If Javon Hargrave has to sit out Sunday’s game, how will Ricardo Mathews perform absorbing his snaps?

We are getting close to the end of the week, and, as a result, close to the answer as to whether or not rookie defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who has become an increasingly important piece of the Steelers defense over the course of the past three weeks, will be able to play against the Bills on Sunday.

It really isn’t about a matter of being able to practice. It is a matter of clearing the concussion protocol, because practicing is not even an option until he is able to do that. And given that he is a rookie who lacks experience, it may already be too late, with one day of practice, to work his way into the Steelers’ plans on Sunday—or at least not a starting role.

The consequence of this increasingly likely possibility would be to see free agent signing Ricardo Mathews absorb a lot of the snaps that Hargrave has been taking for the past three weeks, which has been the majority of snaps in the nickel defense.

In that respect, as a pass rusher, Mathews does have some of the same strengths as Hargrave, as they both possess quickness and fleetingly strong use of hands to gain penetration, which is good for the pass rush, but also aids in disrupting running lanes, which could come in handy with the way the Bills often run the ball.

I honestly didn’t overly scrutinize his play on Sunday against the Giants, during which he saw a lot of snaps, since Hargrave left the game relatively early, but my general impression is that he handled himself relatively well. The Giants are not much of a running team, however.

The Bills will present a completely different sort of challenge, and I don’t think we can really have a very good  grasp on how Mathews might perform in this situation. It should wind up being one of the most critical factors in this game. Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito are a formidable, physical duo, although Buffalo is playing without two starters along the line due to injury and suspension.

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