2021 South Side Questions: What Is James Pierre’s Role In Defense Moving Forward?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

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. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: What is James Pierre’s role moving forward?

Second-year cornerback James Pierre has had to be on his toes this season. He has worn a number of hats—or at least, has worn the same hat under different names, always playing on the outside, but in a variety of contexts.

The Steelers have found snaps for him in each of the first six games, but even disregarding the two games in which he started, his playing time has decreased. He saw single-digit snaps for the first time this season on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, playing just seven snaps, or 12 percent of the defensive workload.

But he also played just 14 snaps, or 22 percent of the defensive snaps, in the overtime pre-bye game against the Seattle Seahawks. He still managed to play 31, 24, and 18 snaps in the other games in which he did not start before the bye.

Is this a product of gradual tweaks to their secondary rotation? Tre Norwood has also played pretty much the exact same amount of snaps on defense the last two games as Pierre, seven and 15, while Arthur Maulet has clearly secured the primary nickel role, logging over 125 snaps in the past four games.

The Steelers have Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton to play outside. Early on, most assumed that Sutton would kick inside in the nickel and dime, and Pierre would be the primary nickel defender, playing on the outside. It’s obvious that hasn’t come to fruition, yet they have still played him in some contexts. Now with diminishing opportunities, what will become of his role?

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