PITTSBURGH — Rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. made his second career start for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Thursday’s 20-16 win over the Tennessee Titans, but he actually did much more than that.
Not only did Porter start, he played the most snaps at outside cornerback of the team’s primary options at the position, and he also shadowed Titans star receiver DeAndre Hopkins around the field, moving from left to right for the first time in his career.
But head coach Mike Tomlin warned on Tuesday that Porter sticking with the other team’s top receiver might not always be part of the game plan.
First of all, when the Steelers play the Green Bay Packers at Acrisure Stadium this Sunday, there really won’t be a consensus top threat between outside receivers Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson.
Secondly, the ways the Titans use Hopkins very specifically lined up with Porter’s strengths and weaknesses as a young cornerback in a way that might not always work out.
“It’s good that Joey wants an assignment like that, but it has to be good for us. There were a lot of things that you guys don’t write about that made it advantageous for us. A lot of their run game went away from D-Hop, so Joey didn’t have to worry about a lot of run game fits and dealing with (Derrick) Henry. All of their screens went away from him, so you didn’t have to worry about screen fits.
“(Porter) is a young guy with some natural coverage ability and skills and some other components of his game are growing and developing. By virtue of traveling with D-Hop, some of those other things got minimized. So, there’s always a lot of depth to decisions and oftentimes, it’s some other things that are equally important as some obvious things in terms of decision making in terms of matching people up.”
It will certainly help in determining his future role that Porter did his part in minimizing Hopkins. According to Pro Football Focus, Porter was targeted five times and allowed just one catch for 17 yards and a 41.3 passer rating against. Hopkins finished with four catches for 60 yards, well below his average coming into Thursday night.
Tomlin laid out the reasons that Porter might not follow every No. 1 receiver the rest of the season, and the Steelers have generally been hesitant to use that approach in the past, but it’s certainly a good thing that they have proven Porter’s ability to take away a top opposing threat.