Yesterday’s game was not his first start, but it was certainly the most important so far for James Pierre, the second-year former college free agent cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was tested heavily against the Denver Broncos, and he failed a couple of those tests, but he ultimately persevered, and made the final play.
Pierre has been burned for a few big plays for touchdowns already this season, and he gave up another one yesterday with Teddy Bridgewater finding wide receiver Courtland Sutton over his head for the 39-yard score, which made it a one-possession game.
But when the Broncos got back down to the Steelers’ three-yard line in position to tie the game, it was Pierre, in coverage against Sutton, who made the play to intercept the ball and secure a much-needed win for a flailing Steelers team in desperate need of somebody to make a play.
You could tell very obviously that it was a cathartic moment, not just for him, but for the whole defense, and the team as a whole. Pierre and Joe Haden had a poignant moment after the game in which they embraced and the veteran offered some words of encouragement to the young corner. They both knew the significance of the sequence of plays he had been through on the day.
Pierre has been targeted often when he’s been on the field, and while he’s made some plays on the ball, his limits have been tested as well. He was not having a great day overall by the time that final pass landed in his breadbasket, but his teammates were there.
After the game, he said that Haden let him know those sorts of plays happen along the way to every cornerback. “You’ve just got to try and win more than you lose. Doing what we do at cornerback, everybody sees it, so you have to be technically sound every time. Every play counts at corner”.
Some plays are weighted more heavily than others, though, and 4th and goal from the three in a one-score game with 17 seconds to play is certainly up there in weight. Going one-on-one against Sutton, he seemed to sense the play and made a great speed turn to get his body back around to the backfield, making the interception look like it was intended for him.
Who knows what the future holds for Pierre? Haden himself said earlier this offseason that, at this point, he intends to test the market. There’s a very good chance the Steelers will be looking for a new starting cornerback. Pierre, if he plays well this season, may be the first in line. And this moment could be the start of his rise.