If there was one thing to really anticipate about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ preseason finale, then it was obviously the debut of the team’s first-round draft pick, cornerback Artie Burns, who spent most of training camp and the first three preseason games on the sidelines while nursing a quad injury.
As you might expect, especially for a fairly unpolished underclassman who has missed considerable and valuable time, Burns’ night in the secondary against the Panthers was an up-and-down affair, but it was certainly far from a discouraging one, nor did it offer up any surprises in his game that were not already on his college film.
As you might imagine, I was particularly interested in how Burns might have looked in playing the run, which was an area of concern of his going back to his Miami days. During the game, I thought that he showed good instincts at times—with a miscue here and there.
One mid-first-quarter play seemed to combined the two. After jamming the receiver at the line of scrimmage, Burns turned to the backfield and made for the center of the action, but sensing that the chasing receiver would have an inside-leverage block, and fearing the back might bounce outside, he peeled out to his left, turning his back to the play. He actually ended up entirely running out of the play.
Later in the first quarter was a more concerning lapse in the run game, however, with the rookie cornerback losing outside contain on the play side of the field, which was also the short side, with the ball on the near hash marks. The Panthers picked up 12 yards because there was nobody in position to hold contain on the perimeter. This is why discipline in the run game from your cornerbacks is important.
still, again, he is not wholly lost, and indeed far from it, as a mid-second-quarter example would indicate. Playing off-coverage, Burns watched a run designed to go up the middle break to his side of the field and he quickly worked his way around the wide receiver to get to the ball, though not in time to make the tackle himself.
It was on the next snap that Burns came in on a cornerback blitz—but unfortunately for said cornerback, the quarterback handed the ball off to the running back on a draw play that ended up going for a sizable gain. Not Burns’ fault, of course; this was more to show off his potential as a blitzer. His assignment was likely the quarterback at all costs.
a couple plays later in the drive, Burns was playing off in a zone on second and 13, and he showed a nice click and close, and he did so preventing the receiver from turning upfield to gain any more yards. And he even did it with—yes—a bit of physicality.
It was of course on the very next snap on which Burns undercut a corner route into the end zone to break up what likely would have been a touchdown pass, but that play has already been detailed, and need not further elaboration. He also got his hands on a couple of other passes, though none that were in danger of being caught. He probably got away with a bit of pass interference at the goal line late in the half as well.