In spite of the fact that both of them are theoretically capable of doing it, the Pittsburgh Steelers have no intention of using either of their starting cornerbacks to shadow and particular wider receiver. Not even A.J. Green, who is arguably the toughest assignment that either of them will have faced up to this point in the season, though Stefon Diggs is no walk in the park.
Said William Gay, now reduced to work in the dime package after opening the 2016 season as a starter, “you look at it, you got two number one corners” in second-year Artie Burns and the recently-signed Joe Haden, both former first-round draft picks. “So why switch it?”, he asked. “That’s a no-brainer”.
Haden spent much of his time in Cleveland trailing his opponents’ best receivers, but he has not had to do that with the Steelers. He feels quite unburdened, in fact, about the whole situation in Pittsburgh, where less responsibility has fallen directly onto his shoulders.
And Burns’ improvement from year one to year two has had a lot to do with it, something that starting strong safety Sean Davis noted. “He’s elevating his game, he’s making plays, making plays that he was missing last year”, he told Jacob Klinger. “We’ve been going in, reviewing stuff, shows that his mental game is elevated and he’s making more plays out there”.
Haden also told the reporter that none of his coaches have up to this point outlined any sort of plan that would see either himself or Burns shadow any player at any point this season, which is something that they did a couple of times even last year—with Ross Cockrell, whom they traded in the process of cutting down the roster to 53.
When it comes to the Bengals, it’s unclear who they will even be lining up against. There is Green, of course, and Brandon LaFell, who has so far remained their second wide receiver, despite the fact that they have drafted a pair of wide receivers in the first two rounds over the course of the past two years.
Their 2016 second-round pick, Tyler Boyd, has already been ruled out. 2017 first-rounder John Ross finally returned to practice for the first time in over a month this week, and was a full participant yesterday, but it remains uncertain if he is going to make his return to the field.
I do think this is something the Steelers would have hoped to avoid this season, and which might not have been possible had they not gotten the opportunity to sign Haden, instead going into the season again with Cockrell. While Burns has made progress, both physically and mentally, he is still in a position in which it is best to limit his responsibilities to help him just play.