Chalk Talk: Porter already looking like a shutdown cornerback - Sport News

Chalk Talk: Porter already looking like a shutdown cornerback

No matter how great Steelers defenses have been under Mike Tomlin’s tenure, he’s only had one true homegrown shutdown cornerback. However, it sure looks like the Steelers might finally have another one in Joey Porter Jr.

Chalk Talk: Porter already looking like a shutdown cornerback

There has been substantial buzz surrounding Porter since well before the Steelers chose him as the 32nd overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The anticipation soared to new heights when the Steelers made the selection, not only due to his performance at Penn State but also because of his heritage.

However, Tomlin has taken his time with giving Porter added responsibility in this defense. Early on, Porter only saw the field in dime packages and nothing more. The following few weeks, Porter’s snap counts increased, but he was still undoubtedly second fiddle to Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace, regardless of performance. And, with Porter showing well with every snap, fans clamored for more.

Finally, there was a breakthrough in the Steelers’ Week 5 win over the Ravens. Porter was on the field as one of the primary cornerbacks in the second half, and wound up recording his first career interception in the process:

While Porter wasn’t named a “starter” after the win over the Ravens, his snap count increased from 28 in Week 5 to 53 when the Steelers faced the Rams after the bye week. He played 59 defensive snaps in the loss to the Jaguars, and after officially earning a starting role, Porter played a career-high 70 defensive snaps in Thursday night’s win over the Titans. More importantly, Tomlin and Teryl Austin signed off on allowing Porter to act like a true shutdown cornerback.

With the edition of Chalk Talk, I really want to dive into not only what Porter did so well in this game, but why the Steelers might have taken a conservative approach with Porter.

Coming out of college, Porter’s two greatest traits were his physicality in press coverage and superb length. Like his father did during his NFL career, Porter is a very physical and very aggressive player, which is great for a press coverage cornerback. And with 34-inch arms — a great length for an offensive lineman — and 6-foot-2 frame, he has extremely rare length that allows him to make up for lost room when the receiver he’s covering gets a little separation:

Porter had a few issues were a concern to teams, but two may help explain why he fell completely out of the first round of the draft. First, with the aggressiveness and physicality came penalties. Porter was too “handsy” or “grabby” in college, and was penalized 10 times during his final season at Penn State. Also, Porter’s tackling was a major concern. And, Steelers secondary coach Grady Brown told those of us who covered the Senior Bowl that tackling is a must for cornerbacks that play in the AFC North:

“In our division, we have to tackle,” Brown said in January. “Cleveland is going to make you tackle. Baltimore is going to make you tackle. You’ve got to tackle [Joe] Mixon. You’ve got to tackle all of those guys. It’s not just a cover situation in our defense, in our division. You have to be tough enough. You have to be a willing tackler. If you put on film that you won’t tackle, it’s going to be hard for you to play. You have to be a complete player for what we need.”

In Porter’s first eight NFL games, the tackling issues have been more than evident. Those concerns have been realized in multiple ways.

Even in this win over the Titans, it was difficult to consistently see a “willing tackler,” as Brown put it:

In this play, Porter sinks way too far in and doesn’t contain the outside. Since Porter loses his containment, he’s forced to go outside of a proper technique and winds up getting flagged for a facemask penalty.

Containing the outside is imperative for a cornerback when playing run defense. Their job is to try to force them back to the inside and let the big guys have another crack at making the tackle. And, if the running back still tries to force the run outside, then by staying outside, the cornerback maintains good enough leverage to make the tackle himself, or at worst slow him down enough for others to help out.

Even sometimes in pass coverage, Porter’s lack of ability in tackling puts reps like this on film, in which he fails twice in one play:

Now, I’ve had multiple readers ask/tell me if a cornerback is superb at coverage, does tackling really matter? My answer is, emphatically, yes. Even in today’s NFL, tackling is a must. Otherwise, teams will know they can run at your cornerbacks and be successful, much like the Texans did to the Steelers earlier this season.

With all of that being said, considering Porter’s shortcomings as a tackler and risk with being grabby, he has absolutely earned the right to be the No. 1 cornerback on this team. His coverage has been phenomenal. According to Pro Football Focus, Porter has been targeted only 21 times out of 190 coverage snaps. Of those 21 targets, he’s allowed six catches for 127 yards and a touchdown. That includes one costly error, a 56-yard touchdown reception by Travis Etienne Jr. in which Porter admittedly blew his coverage.

But, in that same game in which Etienne got past Porter, the rookie showed very well against Calvin Ridley. Porter held him to only two catches for 20 yards when matched up against him, and was in his hip pocket all game long. But, there’s one sequence I really want to highlight from this game, and it shows not only growth in Porter’s game as a press cornerback, but superb technique and trusting his abilities:

Ridley is really shifty and tries to get Porter to bite on the double move here. However, Porter stays patient and stays over the top of Ridley. That prevents Ridley from blowing past him, and Porter emphatically wins the rep. And, as you can see, him winning the rep helps force a sack.

Some cornerbacks might bite on that kind of move inside so they don’t lose position should the receiver break to the inside on a slant or drive route. However, as I showed you above from his days at Penn State, Porter’s length gives him the ability to make up for lost ground unlike other cornerbacks can. It’s a natural gift because you can’t teach length.

Also, Porter’s patience here might be the thing to get most excited about. It’s a mature approach to playing cornerback, which is phenomenal to see in a rookie. For those of you that have seen D3: The Mighty Ducks (aging myself here a bit), the words, “Make him make the first move, Conway!” apply here. Porter has shown a ton of patience so far, not letting receivers’ jab steps, head fakes or other moves fool him.

Then, to really test Porter, the Jaguars tried to actually force a deep ball to Ridley on the very next play, and Porter shut it down with relative ease:

Porter does this so well. He does a great job of staying on top of receivers, and uses the sideline to his advantage, so that receivers simply can’t run past him on go routes.

Another way Porter’s shown so well in coverage is his ability to stay in the receiver’s hip pocket. Not every rep has to be won by knocking the receiver off the line of scrimmage at the snap. Having the ability to constantly change direction and run with the receiver is a trait that’s highly valued by the Steelers, perhaps the most coveted trait throughout the draft process earlier this year.

Here’s an example of that from Porter’s matchup against DeAndre Hopkins:

Again, nothing overly physical here. Just running with Hopkins, staying in his hip pocket and forces Will Levis — who was looking at Hopkins as his first read here — to hold onto the ball longer than he wanted to, and T.J. Watt ends up with a red zone sack. With Porter’s length, Hopkins is covered. And, the real encouraging thing on this particular rep is Porter doing this while starting off the ball. Porter’s typically at his best when pressing. In fact, Porter might be considered be inconsistent when he is playing off the ball. But here, he’s able to read and react playing off Hopkins.

For those concerned about how the coaching staff handled Porter over the first few weeks of the season, it sure looks as if any worries are now quelled. Not only is Porter officially a starter now, Tomlin even allowed Porter to shadow Hopkins throughout Thursday night’s game. The Steelers typically have a left cornerback and right cornerback, and … that’s that. Guys don’t move. Maybe Joe Haden got to do that every now and then a few years back, but that’s it. Tomlin giving Porter the freedom to shadow Hopkins is a huge sign of trust, and Porter rewarded that trust with a top-notch performance in coverage:

Porter’s game isn’t perfect yet. He’s got to become a better tackler and more consistent when playing off the ball. The Steelers have some disguises in coverage that require outside cornerbacks to drop into Cover 3, and Porter needs to find more consistency in those situations. Though, from what I’ve seen watching the film, his footwork has improved since his Penn State days.

However, seeing Porter have success with superb technique and patience in press coverage this early in his career is more than enough to get fans excited for his future. He truly looks the part of a genuine shutdown cornerback, and that’s something this defense has been missing for a long time.

Related Posts

Steelers Urged to Make Blockbuster QB Move: ‘Go Get that Young Man’

The Pittsburgh Steelers have several needs heading into the 2024 season. But the need behind center will be discussed more than any of the others. While discussing Pittsburgh’s quarterback…

Steelers Won’t Make a ‘Knee-Jerk’ Mike Tomlin Decision

Much to the chagrin of significant swaths of the Pittsburgh Steelers fanbase, head coach Mike Tomlin is going to retain his role within the organization for quite…

Packers Snub Ex-Captain to Sign Much-Needed New CB

It’s been a busy year for Carolina Panthers defensive back David Long, who is no longer Carolina Panthers defensive back David Long. He’s now a former Panther….

5 Insane Statistics For Cowboys QB Dak Prescott Through Week 13

Heading into Week 14 of the 2023 NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys and star quarterback Dak Prescott are looking more and more like a legitimate Super Bowl…

Steelers to Start Mitch Trubisky against Patriots if Kenny Pickett Can’t Play

Mitch Trubisky will be the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers this Thursday Night when they host the New England Patriots. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed…

Cowboys Defenders Atone For Mistakes In Messy 41-35 Win

The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Seattle Seahawks 41-35 in a messy, mistake-filled nail-biter. Thursday’s primetime matchup was sloppy on both sides, both on the field and penalty-wise….