The bad news is that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense got more or less by Tom Brady and the Patriots once again. The good news is that rookie defensive tackle Javon Hargrave continued to prove that he is growing into a dynamic interior defender, an observation that extends far beyond his first-quarter sack of the future Hall-of-Famer.
But we will start there anyway with the consideration of the fact that it was the first major passing opportunity of the game after the Steelers put New England in a third-and-11 situation on their second drive of the game.
Some of his best work can be better appreciated making use of the end-zone camera view. He really worked over the left guard on his sack of Brady early in the first quarter. The young lineman had to counter with a hand to Hargrave’s face after being beaten quickly by an inside move. The defensive tackle barreled him over after he attempted to recover, finding himself unceremoniously shoved aside as an afterthought.
That may have been his only sack of the game, but it was not his only opportunity to display his developing pass-rush skills. Nor some of his other skills, as he showed in blanketing the running back behind the line of scrimmage on what looked like a designed screen pass.
Hargrave’s interior pressure later in the second quarter forced Brady to check the back down for a one-yard gain. It was only serendipitous that the hind quarters of the right guard were well-placed to make him aware of the fact that his center had been beaten in the right-side A Gap. The defensive tackle later recovered to his right and nearly pushed the center into Brady before he was forced to shift his launch point.
The young center had struggles with him at other points in the game as well. He did well initially against the Steelers’ rookie on a passing play early in the third quarter only to see him leverage his way into the backfield. It was a solid effort despite it being too late to impact the throw.
Hargrave was able to bull rush his adversary into the pocket on a play later on the same drive that drew the aid of both guards to either side of him. Brady was forced to make an awkward delivery over the middle on a pass that was ultimately dropped by his receiver.
It is worth remembering that this was a small-school product that we are dealing with here. Hargrave routinely got by against a lower level of competition largely by being more talented than them. He has made major strides this season in terms of using his hands and employing counter moves as he grows into a legitimate threat up the middle.