It hasn’t always been easy for third-year nose tackle Javon Hargrave to get on the field for a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that spends the majority of its time in nickel or dime defenses, but he has gotten more opportunities to play over the past couple of weeks, and has looked to be at his best during that time.
We’ve already taken a look at his impact on the run game earlier this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, so today I want to examine the work that he did as a pass rusher, which included a career-high two sacks and a batted pass.
Late in the first quarter, on third and four, Hargrave lined up over right guard before attacking the center. As he was beginning to win the rep on the lineman’s outside shoulder, however, the defense lost contain and Blake Bortles scrambled for a first down, Hargrave giving chase.
He would notch both of his sacks in the finale five minutes of the second quarter, the first of those coming on a third and nine. The Steelers ran a stunt with him and Cameron Heyward and the nose (out of the nickel) served as the crasher, using leverage to get inside of the center. With Heyward’s contain through the B gap, Bortles had nowhere to go.
His second sack was a straight bullying of the right guard, winning with skill off the line. After setting him up for an inside move, Hargrave swam over his outside shoulder and wrestled the quarterback down for a loss of eight, setting up a third and 18.
Still at the end of the first half, he was playing more of a contain role on this rush, but watch his hustle as he chases a scrambling Bortles. That alone likely forced the quarterback to throw the ball away rather than advance it.
Hargrave had a shot at a third sack 10 minutes into the second half after being the center cleanly off the line, but this time there was a vacated hole in the Steelers’ ranks, and after Bortles was able to spin away from the initial pressure, he scrambled up the middle for 10 yards to convert on third and three.
Finally, with five minutes to go, Bortles looked to throw on third and 11, but Hargrave as part of a six-man rush played the throwing lane and was able to get a hand up to knock the ball down. It was the second batted pass of his career.
With Stephon Tuitt out again, Hargrave figures to once again have a greater opportunity to see playing time on Sunday. Can he string together yet another strong performance like this one?