Film Room: How Artie Burns Fits In The Steelers’ Defense

I know that generally speaking, you aren’t huge fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers selecting Artie Burns in the first round. I can understand that, and we have plenty of time to discuss it, but I want to focus on some of the positivies here. Because believe it or not, they exist.

This Steelers defense has made slight deviations away from Dick LeBeau. One of the several is its increase in Cover 2. This started, as you’d expect, back in training camp with Mike Tomlin working closely with the defensive backs on their zone press technique – jam and sink. Here is exactly what I wrote on Day Three.

“Tomlin was extremely active with the defensive backs in individuals. Was basically the DBs coach. Animated and vocal, showing even veterans like William Gay the technique he wanted. As much as I don’t want to stir the pot, looked like some Cover 2 concepts. Punch, slide laterally, drop, and then plant and break when the coach told you.”

Enter Artie Burns. His length is absurd for his frame. Under six foot but 33 1/4 inch arms. That’s just plain crazy. And as I saw that day in Latrobe and at times throughout the 2015 season, I can see how Burns aligns those Cover 2 principles. Let’s look at some examples.

Bluff Stack Tear 2 

I broke this down in the Steelers Week Five win over the San Diego Chargers. The following picture comes from LeBeau’s Cincinnati Bengals‘ 2002 playbook, illustrating the concept.


This, essentially, is Cover 2 out of a pressure look. For the corners, they’re jamming, punching, and squatting underneath to play take away the hitch and drive on the flat.

Here’s the concept drawn up.


And here’s how it played out live. Forced checkdown to Antonio Gates.

Cover 2 

Here is Pittsburgh disguising their Cover 2 later in the season against the Cincinnati Bengals. Great job by both corners to funnel their receiver, carrying the route vertical because there isn’t an underneath threat. William Gay forces an inside release by the receiver at the top, making the wideout to take a longer path to bide time for safety Will Allen to get to his spot.

We’ve also seen similar concepts go wrong for Pittsburgh. And this is an area where Burns’ strength and ability to reroute comes into play. Same Bengals game, same concept, just flipped. Though I think Gay is fine with allowing the outside release, the side with the bailing safety must force inside (giving the S more time to reach his landmark), it’s not a great bump and A.J Green is clean down the left sideline. Safety can’t close in time and it’s a completion.

Burns is long and physical. Bumping that receiver slightly, giving the safety an extra fraction of a second, absolutely can mean a world of difference between complete and incomplete.

Here are the Steelers running their Cover 2 out of dime (6 DB) personnel. Blake reroutes the receiver and then drives on the throw underneath.

2 Man 

Under Butler, the Steelers have played more 2 Man, especially on 3rd and long. Two high shell with the corners playing press man underneath. Utilizing “trail” technique and playing to the receiver’s inside hip, carrying anything underneath. Third and eight against the Arizona Cardinals. Steelers disguise the look, going from potential Cover 1 to Cover 2 as the safety to the bottom bails to his landmark.

Corners are going to press and take away the dig. Antwon Blake struggles to do that here and the pass is complete to John Brown. Burns’ lack of fluidity may be an initial challenge in this regard, but his elite length is going to allow him to compete for these passes. Blake’s stubby self can’t.

Though the Steelers still base out of their Cover 3 scheme, the increase in these concepts fit into Burns’ wheelhouse. Use that length and physicality to his advantage. It’s an attractive quality. He’s a player who can work in press and Cover 3, though he’s at his best in the former. Off man isn’t his game, as I wrote in my scouting report and mentioned by Kevin Colbert in their post-pick presser.

In a separate post, we’re going to look at the playmaking opportunities for Burns playing the flat. His ball skills, six interceptions last season, is another standout quality.

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