The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t always found a way to consistently get nose tackle Javon Hargrave on the field. Even though he is a good athlete for the position, defense is played so much with five or more defensive backs on the field that it’s hard to play the nose tackle.
But their defensive game plan against the Carolina Panthers was slightly different from what it normally has, putting a greater emphasis on keeping the ‘base’ 3-4 defense on the field, even against 11 personnel packages, in order to contain the run.
By and large, they did that, and Hargrave was key in that, especially in the first quarter (since the Panthers spent most of the rest of the game throwing it).
It started with the first play of the game, in fact, with the third-year defensive lineman showing off the athleticism that made this strategy possible. He moved down the line laterally and got around the left tackle’s shoulder to reach Christian McCaffery following a four-yard gain.
He continued to display his agility one a tackle of McCaffery for a one-yard gain later in the quarter, but it was also a product of his ability to keep his eyes in the backfield. He adjusted as the back adjusted and cut inside to make an aggressive tackle.
At the end of the quarter, on second and 15, he and Vince Williams combined to bring the second-year back down after a three-yard gain. As was frequently the case, the Steelers stunted Hargrave to a side, but he read the play well and made the tackle as the run came his way.
Though it was technically a successful play for the offense, a five-yard pickup on first and 10, this example in the fourth quarter best exemplfiies his ability to stack and shed to make a play. The timing of the move is also critical.
Finally, at the end of the game, well after the result was in hand, the point here is that he continued to play with the same energy level, even though he was playing now against reserves.
The 37 snaps he saw against the Panthers was the most by 10 that he saw in any game this season, and by percentage it was even higher. With that additional time to get on the field, he proved that he can make a difference.