When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted first-round cornerback Artie Burns, they understood that his skill set was raw and required refining. They said as much after they drafted him, knowing full well that the value of his selection rested much more on the future potential rather than the current product.
It follows from that that immediate expectations would be set fairly low, as would be the initial snap count, but injuries have actually made it difficult for them to keep him off the field. Had it not been for Senquez Golson’s injury, he may not have seen the field at all this year.
But that injury thrust Sean Davis into the slot instead of Golson, and as a result Burns moved up in the pecking order as the sixth defensive back in their quarter defense. And due to further injury, he actually spent a lot of time in the Steelers’ last game as their nickel back on the outside. He figures to fill that role again tomorrow against the Chiefs.
With that in mind, it would probably be wise to take a look at some notable moments from his performance on Sunday against the Eagles. Due to game circumstances—Philadelphia predominantly relied upon screen passes, and later in the game, on the running game—he wasn’t really targeted much, so the greater emphasis here is looking at his tackling, which has been an issue, as should go without saying.
A lot of his snaps ended up seeing him face Dorial Green-Beckham. His first target against was won by default after the big receiver was unable to hang on to the ball, but on this play, he showed some recognition and broke on the pass fairly quickly after identifying that it would be coming in his area. Coming out of his backpedal could have been a bit cleaner.
Green-Beckham ended up with a 19-yard reception on a third-and-12 on the next play in front of Ross Cockrell, but Burns got his a couple plays later. On the opening play of the second quarter, the Eagles ran a bubble screen for Josh Huff with one blocker and two defenders on the side. Burns was given a one-on-one opportunity to make the tackle, but the wide receiver spun out of his grasp on a poor tackle attempt.
Later on, about midway through the quarter, Green-Beckham got in front of Burns with a quick hitch, which would have been fine had he been able to make the tackle. The cornerback attacked where the wide receiver was rather than where he would be and ended up whiffing on a 12-yard play.
A couple of plays later, however, Burns saw the screen to Green-Beckham developing again quickly and broke in after playing off the ball on second and three. With the assistance of James Harrison, he was able to make the tackle to force a third-down attempt.
Burns has had a couple of high moments in his playing time through the first three games, but plenty of lows as well, and the Steelers are just going to have to play through the mistakes and hope that he doesn’t miss on too many tackles that turn four-yard plays into 15-yarders.