The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Javon Hargrave will be a bigger part of the nickel defense in 2019.
Explanation: While Hargrave’s role in the nickel defense expanded last season in his third year, his snap count still checked in south of 500. He did record the majority of his sacks from nickel and dime looks, primarily working with either Cameron Heyward or Stephon Tuitt. Heyward has been sitting out most sub-packages so far through the first two days of training camp, likely primarily for veteran rest.
There is no better reason to believe that Hargrave will play more in the nickel this year than for the fact that he produced when they were in those looks. Four of his six and a half sacks from last season came while the Steelers were playing either the nickel or dime defensive sub-packages.
If he’s doing well, he’s going to get more time. That’s generally how it works. Heyward sitting out those snaps is to get him rest, sure, but it’s also on the flip side about giving Hargrave more of that sub-package playing time.
Heyward has been talking for years about getting more of a rotation along the defensive line in order to help keep the starters fresh late in the season. Hargrave has been actively working on expanding his repertoire to include success in pass-rushing situations from these packages, and it has been paying off.
And yet the Steelers have continued to exhibit a seeming unwillingness to utilize this rotations, as, when they have Heyward and Tuitt on the field together, they tend not to come off very frequently, except during extended drives as it becomes necessary.
The thinking is, surely, that they are the two best pass-rushers, and are also paid to do the job, so they might as well do it. Hargrave will see some time, but it wouldn’t come as a surprise in the slightest if it came up short of 200 snaps, which was in the ballpark of where he was last season in the nickel and dime looks.