Tim Benz: Steelers’ Javon Hargrave could be a ‘Blockbuster’ vs. Patriots | TribLIVE.com
Tim Benz, Columnist

Tim Benz: Steelers’ Javon Hargrave could be a ‘Blockbuster’ vs. Patriots

Tim Benz
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Javon Hargrave sacks New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro Ma. on Jan 22, 2017.

It isn’t the most obvious Mike Tomlin analogy of all time. But I see where he is going with it.

At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, I asked Tomlin about nose tackle Javon Hargrave. In my mind, if the Steelers pull off an upset against the New England Patriots Sunday night, Hargrave will be a big contributor.

Why? I’ll get to that in a second.

Tomlin’s description of Hargrave’s development over his three years in Pittsburgh was … unique.

“I like how he continues to add to his portfolio,” Tomlin said. “I often kid him that a nose guard is like Blockbuster Video. He better diversify. A nose doesn’t get an opportunity to play much so he better reinvent himself as a sub-package rusher. And he has done that over the last couple of years because of that challenge. Thus, he’s made himself more useful to us.”

I followed up by asking Tomlin if that means Hargrave has become more like Netflix and less like a VHS tape.

“Certainly, and he better.”

Yeah. Especially this weekend in Foxborough.

Watch how Hargrave handles whoever the Patriots center is. That will be a crucial matchup.

Usually, it’s David Andrews. But he is battling blood clots in his lungs and has been placed on injured reserve. Andrews is a team captain who played all 19 games last year. The Athletic reports that Andrews “allowed one sack, four quarterback hits and four pressures, all of which were the fewest among the Patriots’ starters.”

Ted Karras is the presumptive replacement. He has been New England’s backup interior lineman for three years. Karras has appeared in 45 regular-season games with five starts. The team also acquired former Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills lineman Russell Bodine.

That’s a guy Hargrave has pushed around on a few occasions during his days in Cincy.

Regardless of who Bill Belichick starts on the other side of the line of scrimmage, though, Hargrave has a chance to author a few highlights in Game 1 of his free agency season.

“Really ain’t thinking about it,” Hargrave said of his uncertain contract situation. “That’s the least of my concerns right now. Whatever happens, happens. I’m just ready to go on with it and have a good year.”

Getting the Steelers off on the right foot on first-and-10 in the Steelers base defense would go a long way to help in that regard.

Especially against the Patriots. New England averaged 31.2 rush attempts per game last season. That was the third-highest total in the NFL. The Steelers held New England to just 19 rushes last season, en route to a 17-10 defeat of the eventual Super Bowl champs. But the Pats averaged 5.1 yards per attempt along the way.

And while the center position is a question — as is left tackle Isaiah Wynn — the two starting guards (Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney) have started in the Super Bowl the last three years.

“We really don’t look at that,” Hargrave said of the Patriots’ depth chart up front. “We are just ready to go out there and show what we’ve got. Whoever is out there, we’re trying to dominate.”

Dominate may be a strong way to describe what the Steelers did to New England up front last year at Heinz Field. But they seemed to get Brady off his trademark rhythm more often than they normally do. He was only sacked once, but he was hit seven times and flustered into a passer rating of 89.9 for the game. In 11 regular-season starts against the Steelers, his quarterback rating is 109.9. In three playoff wins, that number jumps to 118.6.

Which gets back to Tomlin’s initial point about Hargrave needing to be a presence in the middle of the pass rush, as well as against the run. That task normally falls to Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward. But any help Hargrave could provide — especially if the Patriots throw on first-and-10 on snaps against their base defense — would be huge.

“It’s just the evolution of roles in this game and opportunities,” Tomlin said of Hargrave’s improving pass-rush skills. “You better have other things that you’re capable of doing to add value to your cause and ours.”

Hargrave does have a scalp of Brady to his credit, sacking the star quarterback in the 2016 AFC Championship Game.

Steelers fans better hope Hargrave is “kind and rewinds” so they see that again Sunday night.

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Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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