A little more obvious and on the nose with my selection this week but the rookie better step up. If Artie Burns struggles, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense could be in for a long day.
It’s still not entirely clear what his role is going to be this week. Burns said he was starting over William Gay, Gay played it off before showing up on the injury report Friday. Gay said he was going to play but the reports we’ve been given, the way they are presented at least, suggests Burns will be the base corner opposite Ross Cockrell while playing every snap in nickel.
Should that be the case, Burns’ ability to play the run will be tested even more. As we’ve hammered home time and time again, the results so far have been Titanic bad. Baltimore uses a fullback around 40% of the time and look to utilize their tight ends with a now-healthy offensive line trying to jump start their run game. Burns must support the run better than he did against Miami and New England to ensure the Ravens remain one-dimensional. Because their passing offense isn’t anywhere close to potent.
Again, can’t stress this enough, run defense is an 11 man job and Burns is far from being the first line of defense. That falls on the big boys up front and should be strengthened by Cam Heyward’s return. But the one or two times Burns will be tested, and as he puts up more bad tape the more defenses will exploit him, he has to come up big. Keep contain, work off the block, make the tackle, whatever the situation calls for (and it usually involves all three).
Of course, the bigger element, the whole, you know, coverage thing. The Ravens’ passing offense, as we just mentioned, is flailing, but they work to get chunk plays. And that’s how the Steelers lose. Chunk. Plays. Happened against Miami twice. Ditto with New England. Gamebreakers, gamechangers, ones you can point to as moments where the game ended.
Baltimore has plenty of speed. Mike Wallace still has his groove and is great releasing vs press coverage. I don’t know how varied he really is but the guy can still fly. Burns has the speed to match but he’s struggled to make the proper reads and match, just like what happened against the Dolphins. Again, I bet the Ravens will look to test him.
If Burns can hold up and have a respectable day, it’s hard to imagine Baltimore having much success on offense. Which means a Pittsburgh win, a strong hold on the AFC North, and bragging rights for the next couple weeks. All will be right with the world.