James Pierre has settled nicely into the “next man up” role this season. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time until he’s in the lead role, not the understudy. Pierre replaced the benched Ahkello Witherspoon in Sunday’s blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. While the game had few bright spots, Pierre was one of them, holding his own and defending the deep ball against WR A.J. Brown.
With a bye week for the team to reassess things, it’s possible Pierre works his way into regular playing time. Whatever role he has, Pierre says he’s ready for it.
“I am just ready to deliver wherever I am needed at,” he said via The Trib’s Chris Adamski.
Pierre has filled in and stepped up in multiple games this season. He played an excellent game in the Steelers’ upset win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, allowing just two completions on six targets and making multiple critical breakups. On the season, he’s allowed just six completions on 14 targets, a QB rating of 53 against.
Pierre’s had a bumpy career. He began it by making the Steelers’ as an undrafted free agent and climbing the ladder into a defensive role his sophomore season. But he struggled to be a consistent cover corner, torched downfield too often, and was benched mid-way through last season. With Witherspoon retained and Levi Wallace signed this offseason, Pierre seemed buried on the depth chart and spent the first month of this season as a quality gunner and special teamer. Here’s what we wrote about him based on his camp and preseason performance.
“Best of times, worst of times. Pierre is still very much an up-and-down player, a gambler who made more diving attempts for interceptions/breakups than any other player on this roster. When it worked, he made some great plays, like a diving interception on Kenny Pickett’s sideline throw. When it failed, he gave up some big plays. Pierre has size and runs better in pads than how he tested. In-game, he allowed just one catch on five targets.
He had an impactful summer and is still fairly young without a ton of playing time so his game can still grow. He worked well as a gunner and should be a starter there opposite Miles Boykin. His game has to go to another level but the potential is still there and Pittsburgh’s still hanging on.”
Once injuries tattered the Steelers’ cornerback room, Pierre has logged plenty of defensive snaps and held his own, learning and growing from last year’s mistakes. Coming out of the bye, the rest of the Steelers’ room should be fully healthy with CBs Levi Wallace and Josh Jackson likely at full strength. It’s worth mentioning Pierre suffered a foot injury late in Sunday’s loss but given the fact he was speaking to reporters the day after, the injury is ostensibly minor.
How the Steelers balance their room will be one storyline to watch. Odds seem high Wallace and Cam Sutton will serve as starting outside cornerbacks. Perhaps Pierre can see regular playing time in dime packages with Sutton bumping inside, though Pittsburgh hasn’t run much dime defense this season. His play is at least something to watch the rest of the season and the Steelers would be wise to offer him more chances.