Cornerbacks get paid to cover. In today’s pass-happy NFL, that matters more now than ever before. But run defense is an 11-man job and to stop a run-heavy team like the Denver Broncos, everyone has a role to play. James Pierre and Joe Haden did a solid job in that regard this weekend and the Steelers’ run defense did a good enough job to win Sunday. Here’s four examples of it.
First one. Broncos running to the perimeter on this play. Denver is cracking safety Terrell Edmunds with their WR, forcing Pierre to come down and support the run. This is known as “crack/replace” in that the safety gets cracked and now the corner has to replace his run fill.
Pierre gets the job done here. Comes downhill, breaks down, and makes the tackle on Melvin Gordon (with good backside pursuit from T.J. Watt).
Take a look at the play.
Here’s a play I’m sure you remember. Javonte Williams’ 49 yard run. The run defense’s worst moment of the day, but Pierre did a great job ensuring this didn’t become a 51-yard touchdown. Effort play to chase Williams down from behind and tackle him two yards shy of the goal line. Williams is a thick body and hard to bring down anywhere on the field, much less when the defender is chasing and trailing. The Broncos wound up settling for a field goal so this tackle saved four points.
Third down on that drive. This goes down as a pass but is an elongated run play, a quick screen to the boundary wideout. Pierre attacks downhill with a good angle and throws his shoulder into the receiver. He’s far from the only one involved here but I like the aggression. Some CBs would’ve been passive here and just assumed or let a teammate make the play. Pierre sacrifices his body to ensure the receiver gets on the ground and holding Denver to a field goal.
Last example, this one focusing on Haden here. Broncos do a good job using motion to hold LOLB T.J. Watt (who is blocked by the motion man) and widen Terrell Edmunds, creating a big lane for Gordon. Haden comes downhill to attack the alley and fill it. Same foot/same shoulder tackle on Gordon to bring him down. It’s still a positive run by Denver but Haden limits the damage, the best-case in this scenario.
None of these plays are super exciting or sexy, except for Pierre’s chase down which was notable for all the wrong reasons. But these are the details that get lost in some of the big-picture talk. Joe Haden is among the best run-stopping cornerbacks in football and Pierre is showing his chops with his size and strength. Wanted to shout these guys out for holding their own in an often overlooked area of their game.