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2020 Offseason Questions: Will Steelers Play In 3-4 Front Even Less With Hargrave Gone?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.

The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.

How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will the Steelers spend even less time in a 3-4 front this year with the departure of Javon Hargrave?

3-4 and 4-3 fronts are no longer the ‘base’ defense for pretty much any team in the league. On average, teams only spend about one fifth to one third of their times with these alignments, the preference having long ago become fielding five defensive backs at a minimum.

The reason that defenses have made this shift, of course, was not due to fat-shaming of big-bodied defensive linemen, but because offenses have more wide receivers on the field than they had before, and you want cornerbacks to be covering that third or fourth wide receiver rather than a safety or, god forbid, a linebacker.

Some teams more than others, however, more actively and aggressively favor a nickel alignment. When it comes to 3-4 teams, this may be due to the lack of a strong presence at nose tackle. And the Steelers may now be one of these teams with Javon Hargrave signing with the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency.

Pittsburgh didn’t move to replace him in free agency, and only added a seventh-round pick, Carlos Davis, to the room. Daniel McCullers is the incumbent nose tackle, but other candidates like Tyson Alualu are also being considered. An alternative consideration is to simply play nose tackle less frequently.

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