The undrafted rookie took over the 4th cornerback spot for the Steelers playoff game.
James Pierre was already special, he was the only undrafted rookie to make the Steelers opening 53 man roster. That’s not all, he was active, and played in every game this season. He started as a gunner on punts, spreading to one of the leading special teams players, finishing the season 5th in special teams snaps. In Week 17 took over for Justin Layne, playing 18 snaps at outside corner. For the Steelers Wild Card re-match with the Cleveland Browns he played every dime snap of the game, as the teams #4 cornerback.
In a season that put undrafted rookies up against almost insurmountable odds, James Pierre made the team, played in every game and expanded his role until he passed 2019 3rd round pick Justin Layne on the depth chart. Let’s look at how he did.
Yep, special teams first, because I like special teams, and there’s zero Browns touchdowns in this segment.
Wild Card Game, 1st quarter, 7:48. James Pierre is the gunner to the top of the screen.
Believe it or not, that was by far the best end to a Steeler offensive possession in the first quarter, the other three drives that resolved in the first quarter all ended with turnovers. This one ends with a nice job by James Pierre to beat his blocker and make the tackle. Justin Layne is the other gunner on this play. You can see that he runs faster.
Wild Card Game, 2nd quarter, 11:24. James Pierre is blocking the Browns gunner to the top of the screen.
This is a good job by Pierre, he stays between the gunner and his returner, and if the ball was returned, had a good chance to finish the block.
Wild Card Game, 2nd quarter, 1:44. If you follow the Browns upback to the top of the screen (#31), he blocks James Pierre.
The blocker gets a good shot on Pierre, sending him out of bounds, but Pierre hustles back in and makes the tackle. That hustle was lacking from most of the team in this game.
I wanted to show just how good a job Pierre has been doing on special teams, and it showed up in the playoffs. A bright spot all season on special teams, what did he look like on defense?
The Browns ran a lot, and used heavy personnel groupings a lot, so the Steelers didn’t go to Dime that often. James Pierre played 8 defensive snaps, we will look at 6 of them.
Wild Card Game, 1st quarter, 9:55. James Pierre is the cornerback to the top of the screen.
James Pierre’s first playoff defensive snap came on the Browns first third down. He’s on Rashaad Higgins, and covers his comeback route pretty well. The same can’t be said for Mike Hilton covering Jarvis Landry, Minkah Fitzpatrick who drops right into the passing lane, or Terrell Edmunds who fails to tackle Landry. Pierre runs after Landry, but again, he’s not the fastest guy.
Wild Card Game, 1st quarter, 5:12. James Pierre is the cornerback to the top of the screen.
The defense to the top of the screen is good, Hilton covers the tight end, Pierre handles the stop route and Marcus Allen has the running back in the flat covered. The Bottom of the screen isn’t as good, Jarvis Landry throws Cameron Sutton to the ground (inside 5 yards and Sutton touched him first, no call there) and Steven Nelson gives up a first down to Rashaad Higgins.
In the first quarter the Browns would face three third downs, the two plays above and an 8 yard touchdown run from Kareem Hunt. The first third down of the second quarter, the Browns had already seen Hilton, Fitzpatrick and Edmunds beaten for a Jarvis Landry touchdown, Rashaad Higgins convert against Nelson and Landry throw Cameron Sutton to the ground. What defensive back hadn’t they beaten on third down yet?
Wild Card Game, 2nd quarter, 11:31. James Pierre is the cornerback to the bottom of the screen.
That’s the first third down stop for the Steelers defense, the first defended pass of the game, and the only time Baker Mayfield would target the rookie corner in the game. With a better view of the job he did, you can see why.
Pierre does a great job flipping his hips, uses an arm stab to drive the receiver toward the sideline, finds the ball and swats it away from Higgins.
Sadly it was already 28-0 at this point, but this was the first time the Browns were stopped on a drive in this game. Baker Mayfield wouldn’t complete another third down pass until the 4th quarter.
Wild Card Game, 2nd quarter, 1:28. James Pierre is the cornerback to the bottom of the screen.
Not perfect coverage, but solid, this play Baker Mayfield didn’t have time for the play to develop and scrambled for the first down.
Wild Card Game, 3rd quarter, 11:22. James Pierre is the cornerback off the line to the bottom of the screen.
James Pierre defends this deep route well with the inside help from Minkah Fitzpatrick allowing him to trail the receiver on his outside hip.
Wild Card Game, 3rd quarter, 6:36. James Pierre is the cornerback far off the line to the bottom of the screen.
Pierre covers this well until he sees the ball has been thrown. Really, there’s not a lot of film to look at, but the young man played really well and he didn’t give up a completion. In fact, over the course of the season, Pierre was in on 18 passing plays, and defended the only pass thrown his way. He also ended the season with 10 tackles and a tackle for a loss, with 0 missed tackles.
While he only played 35 total snaps on defense, he played 238 snaps on special teams, and proved himself an asset consistently. While he isn’t likely to take over a starting cornerback role in 2021, it is good to know that the Steelers have some depth they can rely on behind Cameron Sutton and Mike Hilton who are both free agents now.