When I heard that Cam Sutton would miss the Steelers game on Sunday with (you guessed it) a groin injury, I thought it could be trouble for the defense.
After all, the Steelers’ secondary had just dealt with the absence of cornerback Joe Haden in Week 2 (that’s right, a groin). When you consider the permanent absences of both Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton after their departures this past offseason, it seems like Pittsburgh’s secondary just isn’t strong enough to handle many in-season absences in 2021.
It’s understandable to think that way. For starters, Sutton isn’t even all that polished as, well, a starter. Throw in the baptism-by-fire approach the team has to take with youngsters Tre Norwood and James Pierre this season, and it just feels like the secondary isn’t as trustworthy and reliable as it’s been in recent seasons.
Speaking of Pierre, he got the start in Sutton’s place on Sunday. I thought he had a decent enough game against the Broncos, that is, until I saw that he was the cornerback in charge of covering receiver Courtland Sutton on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater that pulled Denver to within five points with 5:26 left in the fourth quarter.
When I saw that, I said, “Yikes!” I mean, I said that literally in my apartment in Crafton, Pa. For one thing, Pierre was out there on an island, which seemed like a lonely situation to be in for a former undrafted free agent who is still in the infancy stages of learning his craft at the professional level. For another thing, the play looked eerily similar to the 34-yard touchdown pass Pierre surrendered to receiver Ja’Marr Chase in a Week 3 loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field.
They say a cornerback is supposed to have a short memory, but that’s probably more accurate advice to give to a veteran like Haden. However, when you’re a baby at the cornerback position, believe me, you’re going to remember every little experience, both good and bad.
How many really good NFL experiences had Pierre had up to the point in Sunday’s game when he surrendered the touchdown to Sutton? Considering his overall lack of experience, he obviously didn’t have many.
This was why I was simply overjoyed to see Pierre make the key play in Sunday’s game when he intercepted a pass by Bridgewater on fourth and goal from the two with just 11 seconds left. Pittsburgh was ahead by eight points, and with Bridgewater down to his last bullet, who do you think he was going to target? That’s right, the receiver who was being covered by the baby cornerback.
But Pierre seemed more than comfortable on this particular island. Sure, he could have just as easily knocked the pass down, but I’m glad he intercepted it. Why? It will likely reinforce the good feeling of making the game-saving play.
As an undrafted free agent, Pierre will likely always lack the necessary physical attributes most scouts and coaches covet in their NFL cornerbacks. However, anyone can gain experience and learn from it, both good and bad.
It was nice to see James Pierre gain some good experience by sealing the victory for the Steelers on Sunday.