I’m bringing back a series I had a lot of fun exploring the last several offseasons. Every player wants to improve, to elevate his game in all areas from one season to the next. Understanding that, we’re going to isolate just one area, one faction of a player’s game. The biggest area for improvement.
CB James Pierre — Play The Run
There is a lot James Pierre has to prove this summer. Too many to list for this kind of format. But know this: If you can’t play the run, you can’t play in this defense. No starter on this Steelers’ defense is bad against the run. Some are better than others, but there are no liabilities. No pure pass rushers or ballhawks. Those guys don’t exist on this team and haven’t for a long time.
That’ll include James Pierre, gunning for a starting spot at RCB when the Steelers are in sub-package, which they were a little over 60% of the time a year ago.
Here’s a fun fact. When was the last time James Pierre made a tackle against the run? Not just a tackle for loss. Just a tackle on a run play. It wasn’t during the 2020 season. He logged just 27 snaps on defense and didn’t notch a run stop. It obviously didn’t come in the 2020 preseason, considering it didn’t exist. It may have come during training camp, but no one has an answer to that question.
The last time we know it happened came in the 2019 Conference USA Championship Game, December 7th, 2019, a two-yard loss in the first quarter. So it’s been about 18 months since he last made his last stop. That’s a long time from having to put your face in the fan.
And Pierre is potentially replacing a solid run-stopping corner in Steven Nelson. Since 2019, Nelson is tied for 17th among all cornerbacks with 33 tackles against the run. Joe Haden is sixth with 42 of them. Big shoes for Pierre to fill in lots of ways, but reliable, consistent run defense is key.
I know it doesn’t seem like it’s at the top of the list, and it truthfully isn’t, but if Pierre can’t crack/replace, can’t get the back down in space, can’t come up and take on a pulling lineman or tight end, any ball skills and playmaking aren’t going to be enough to stick. Run defense is an 11-man job, and when you’re playing teams like the Ravens and Browns, your whole team better be able to get the job done.