The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of things to figure out over the course of the next couple of weeks as they head into their bye week in order to salvage what they had hoped would be a season in which they legitimately contend for the Super Bowl.
One of the biggest unsolved mysteries on the team right now is figuring out how to get competent play out of the right outside cornerback position, which was intended to be manned by third-year Artie Burns. But the former first-round pick has been struggling significantly so far this season, so he has lost his starting role and been forced to rotate with Coty Sensabaugh.
His play has been so rough that, from a statistical standpoint, it literally could not be worse. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks when targeting him this season have had a perfect passer rating of 158.3, and he is one of just four players who have seen at least 20 percent of their team’s defensive snaps against whom that is the case.
In the website’s numbers, he is credited as having been targeted 15 times on the season so far, surrendering 12 receptions on those targets with one pass breakup, allowing 220 yards—36 after the catch—and three touchdowns with no interceptions to counterbalance.
To be fair, he is not the only cornerback with a prominent name to struggle so far this year. Malcolm Butler has allowed 21 receptions on 27 targets, allowing 397 yards, giving up four touchdowns with one interception. Casey Hayward, Josh Norman, and Marshon Lattimore are some of the other big names allowing passer ratings of 129.0 or better.
It also has to be noted that these numbers are reflective of the site’s graders’ observations, making judgements as to whether or not a cornerback was indeed the target on a particular throw—if there was any specific target of a pass. Others looking at the same film may come up with different coverage numbers.
It would be interesting to see the Steelers’ own internal grading, because of course they would know best what Burns’ responsibility is on each play. While the majority of cases should be pretty obvious, there will always bee some gray area presented by a lack of knowledge of the player’s assignment on a particular play.
Still, I think it’s fair to say that we don’t need to know the exact numbers to know that Burns has struggled significantly this year, and the fact that the coaching staff chose to demote him is all the proof that is necessary. Especially when the player he was demoted in favor of is Coty Sensabaugh.