I have over the course of the past several seasons turned to a series of articles around this time of year in which I looked to explore the issues and questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers during the upcoming season and trying to identify the range of possibilities in which any given scenario can end.
I started out with a dual series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take and switched last season to the Devil’s Advocate series. In an attempt to find a more streamlined solution with a title more suited to the actual endeavor, we are introducing a simple Buy Or Sell segment exploring whether the position statement is likely to be worth investing in as an idea.
The range of topics will be wide, from the specific to the general, exploring broad long-term possibilities to the immediate future of particular players. I will make an argument for why a concept should be bought into as well as one that can be sold, and you can share your thoughts on which is the more compelling case while offering your own.
Topic Statement: The Steelers need a better or more conventional run-stopping nose tackle.
Many Steelers fans tend to be of a more traditional build. Nothing pleases them more than averaging 4.5 yards per carry all game while holding their opponents to 3, and winning by grinding out yards and stuffing the run on the other side of the ball.
Of course, the way the game has evolved since then, to play in that style with regularity is unsustainable. But the case could certainly be made that the Steelers would benefit from a more conventional nose tackle that occupies multiple blockers for the purposes of allowing others to make stops against the run.
This would not require a player to be a ‘starter’, such that the nose tackle position is even that of a starter any longer, but the argument could be made that there is a role to be had, and it could expand based on the opponent.
Javon Hargrave is many things, but one thing he’s not is immovable. His skill is based more on disruption and penetration than it is creating a numbers imbalance. He does what he does well and certainly shouldn’t be blamed for the woes of the run defense, but L.T. Walton or Daniel McCullers as his backup is not ideal.
While the backup nose tackle position could certainly be upgraded, the premise laid out above rests on the presumption that Hargrave is deficient against the run, which I would argue against. There may be something to be said about his lack of size, but penetration could also force multiple blockers to occupy him. He did record 15 run stops last season.
One could argue that the biggest problems with the run defense rest in locations other than the defensive line. Improving other areas of the team would have an even bigger impact on their ability to stop the run than subbing out Hargrave for a specialist run-stopping defensive tackle, which could coax the defense into throwing the ball instead.