Joey Porter Jr.’s ‘perfect’ first INT and more takeaways from Steelers’ win

PITTSBURGH — Years from now, when Joey Porter Jr. looks back on his NFL preseason debut, he’ll have a certain keepsake to help spark his memory.

Well, that is if his dad will give the football back.

Porter Jr. — who sat out the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first preseason game with an ankle injury — got his opportunity late in the second quarter of Saturday’s 27-15 win over the Buffalo Bills at Acrisure Stadium.

At the line of scrimmage, Porter extended his go-go-gadget arms to re-route Khalil Shakir so significantly the Bills receiver had to step out of bounds. Porter, playing Cover 2, did a nice job of getting his eyes back on Bills quarterback Matt Barkley and easily reeled in an interception — his first in a Steelers uniform.

“I was talking to my coach right before I went out on that series, and he was talking about getting our hands on our receivers in Cover 2,” Porter said after the game. “He was like, ‘Once you get your hands on him, push him out of bounds and look back for the ball, because it’s going to be there.’ Exactly like that, it happened.”

After celebrating in the end zone with his teammates, Porter found his famous father in the front row behind the Steelers’ bench and handed him the football.

“I was looking for him the whole time, but I couldn’t find him,” Porter said. “He was all the way up there in the nosebleeds. When he finally came down, I got the ball back and I gave it to him.”

The interception is encouraging for the Steelers in a number of ways. First of all, it reinforced something Pittsburgh already knew about Porter: His size and length can be a difference at the line of scrimmage. That’s especially important in the Steelers’ defense, which is built heavily on press-man coverage.

“It is a big part of my game,” Porter said. “Me and coach were talking about that. My size, length and everything, they didn’t give me these arms for no reason, so I’ve got to use them.”

Beyond that, one of the knocks on Porter coming out of Penn State was that he intercepted only one pass as a Nittany Lion. However, at the college level, that can sometimes be a sign of respect more than anything else. After all, you can’t intercept a pass if quarterbacks aren’t throwing the ball in your direction.

Throughout camp, Porter has shown much better hands than his college stats would suggest. Now, he’s got a football to prove it.

“I always want to stand on what I say,” Porter said. “I’ve been telling people I’ve been working on my hands a lot. Nothing better than a homecoming game and getting my first pick. It was perfect.”

After missing the first preseason game, Porter played almost exclusively with the second-team defense. The one exception was when the Steelers rolled out their new-look dime package, which features three safeties on the field at the same time and Patrick Peterson in the nickel.


Why the Steelers need Joey Porter Jr. to win a Week 1 starting job

Porter said he felt “really comfortable” throughout the game.

“That was the main thing I was shocked about,” Porter said. “I wasn’t overthinking myself and (was) not nervous. I go against elite guys in practice every day like (George Pickens) and (Diontae Johnson) and all those guys like that. It wasn’t really a shock to me when I was on the field. It was like practice.”

And the football?

“It’s my first one,” Porter Jr. said. “(My dad) is going to probably let me keep that, and he’ll probably want the one in the regular season.”

Noticeable nickels

Speaking of interceptions, the opportunistic Steelers defense created plenty of havoc. Two of those most responsible play the same position: Chandon Sullivan and Elijah Riley. Both players are fighting for the starting nickel corner job. Both intercepted passes Saturday.

First, with the Bills in the red zone late in the second quarter, Steelers linebacker Cole Holcomb deflected Barkley’s pass. Riley was there to snag the ball out of the air. Later, Sullivan came on a nickel blitz, tipped Barkley’s pass attempt and intercepted it all in one motion.

In terms of roster contstruction, Riley’s interception might have been more significant. Coming into training camp, there was no guarantee he would make the 53-man roster. He appeared in four games last season but mostly toiled on the practice squad. But after pulling down several interceptions during training camp and now doing the same in a game situation, he’s making a strong case to suit up on game days, where he could be a contributor on special teams and a factor in some sub packages.

“Every opportunity I get, I’m trying to do something when I’m out there on the field,” Riley said. “I want to be someone the team can rely on when it comes down to it.”

Adding explosiveness to the offense has been a point of emphasis for the Steelers this preseason. On the first drive of Saturday’s game, they did just that.

Running back Jaylen Warren, following the blocks of Dan Moore Jr. and Isaac Seumalo, broke off a 62-yard touchdown run to set the tone for what was largely a one-sided affair.

“There are some guys who have a knack for making plays, and Jaylen is one of them,” quarterback Kenny Pickett said. “It’s like thunder and lightning with him and Najee (Harris). I think those two have a really good balance off each other. They both do great things.”

Warren came somewhat out of nowhere as an undrafted rookie last season to carve out a niche, mostly as a third-down back. He played on 31 percent of the Steelers’ offensive snaps last year (342 in total). However, he could be making his case for more, especially if the Steelers are serious about adding a home run threat to their offense.

His touchdown run was longer than any rushing play the Steelers produced during the entire 2022 season. Overall, the Steelers produced just eight rushes of 20-plus yards last year. Warren accounted for three of those, and Harris had just one.

Herbig continues to shine, with help from Watt

Nick Herbig continued his promising preseason on Saturday. In the first half, he came within a step of strip-sacking Josh Allen and was credited with a pass defended after disrupting the throw. Later, he was one step quicker to create a strip sack, going around Bills right tackle David Quessenberry with a jumping cross chop, reaching his right (inside) arm across his body to chop Quessenberry’s right (outside) arm and clear his path to the QB.

The former Badger credited another Wisconsin product for the play.

“Me and T.J. (Watt) were just talking about potential moves that I could work on that side,” Herbig said. “Me and him work at it every day. He was telling me, I keep setting it up with my other rushes, so it’s time to do something different that we worked every day.”



‘Blood couldn’t make us any closer’: How Nick Herbig followed his brother’s NFL blueprint

(Photo: Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

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