We are going to finish up today’s look at several of the Pittsburgh Steelers rookies’ performance against the Ravens today with arguably their most important piece, third-round defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. Given the injuries the team has been dealt along the defensive line, the small-school product has become an indispensable component of their starting lineup. They could hardly field a competitive line without him at the moment.
And he has really come on the more and more that he has played. The thing that I have noticed most that has impressed me watching him develop over the course of the season is that I am seeing him being taken out of fewer and fewer running plays, and being able to react quicker, gaining penetration to start making plays on the ground as well as against the pass.
We got a taste of that in the middle of the first quarter when he bullied center Jeremy Zuttah trying to reach-block against the quick-handed rookie. Hargrave immediately established inside leverage on an inside zone right and was able to make the tackle on Kenneth Dixon for a loss. Dixon forced several missed tackles on the night.
Two plays later, this time playing over the left guard, Hargrave quickly scraped inside, punching through the center’s near-side shoulder and gaining penetration with help from the stunting lineman he was paired with. He put a hit on Joe Flacco as he rushed an off-target throw to his well-covered running back. The Ravens were forced to settle for a field goal there because Hargrave made two out of three plays.
Toward the end of the first quarter, we did see Hargrave have trouble holding to the line of scrimmage working against a double team, but this play also shows how far along he has come from even a few weeks ago. The rookie did a much better job here of keeping his shoulders square to the initial block and maintaining his gap. The run ultimately came to him, assisting on the tackle for a four-yard gain.
On the very next snap, he also walked Zuttah back into the pocket, forcing Flacco to check down to Dixon for a one-yard gain. Had it not been for a bad unnecessary roughness call on the next play, the drive probably would have ended with a punt, rather than a botched field goal.
Toward the top of the third quarter, he continued his strong night against the run, once again getting the better of the veteran center. He lined up nearly head-on over center on a zone run to the offensive left, but easily established inside leverage and forced the back to cut back inside. He and L.T. Walton made the tackle together after a short gain.
Moving ahead to the third quarter, we find another example early on in the half of Hargrave getting the better of the veteran center, beating him with a swim move and then walking him back. Had the right guard not come in and help late, maybe he gets close enough to influence an incompletion.
He may not necessarily be a dominant player right now, but Hargrave is doing some very good things early on in his career, and has found the conversion from small-school college to the pros a relatively smooth transition. Turns out pure ability translates well to any level.