The Pittsburgh Steelers made the decision after the second game of the season to scale back third-year cornerback Artie Burns’ snaps as he was struggling on the field, beginning to rotate in Coty Sensabaugh in his spot.
In the four games since the Steelers’ bye week, however, Sensabaugh has played every snap for which he has been healthy. Burns played a handful of snaps at the end of the blowout against the Carolina Panthers, but that has been his only opportunity in the past month.
The defense’s numbers have generally improved since Sensabaugh has been in the lineup, especially as a full-time starter. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked about what role the veteran cornerback has had in helping to make that happen.
“He’s kept the top on the ball. In other words, people hadn’t thrown the ball real deep on us a lot. So that’s probably the biggest thing for us and our secondary”, he said, according to the team’s communications department. “I’d hate to say that right now and see what happens next time, but I think that’s probably the biggest thing for us. We’ve held down the long plays a little bit better, and he’s done a good job of that”.
Over the course of the past four games, the Steelers have allowed 13 passing plays that have gained 20 or more yards, but only four of them have come on ‘deep’ targets. Two of them came in the first game out of the break against the Cleveland Browns, including the meaningless 24-yard touchdown at the end of the affair to tight end Seth DeValve. Joe Flacco also completed a 30-yard pass down the field to Chris Moore and another to tight end Mark Andrews for 21 yards.
They haven’t given up a single deep completion over the course of the past two games, though it’s also true that their last two opponents haven’t tried it much. They have only had five deep attempts between them, while the Browns and Ravens combined for 13 attempts.
While the defense has improved with Sensabaugh in the mix, however, Butler was reluctant to attribute too much of the unit’s success to that move. “It just hasn’t been Coty, it’s been the whole team”, he said. “Morgan [Burnett] got back. Morgan was a little gimpy at the first of the year. I think in order to be a good defense, you’ve got to play together”.
“A lot of these guys were here last year but some of them weren’t”, he went on, referring most notably to Jon Bostic in addition. “Them not being here, they’ve still got to learn to play with each other because of the communication that’s required and stuff like that. So I think that’s what’s helped us more than anything”.
The Steelers’ website has finally officially updated their depth chart to reflect Sensabaugh as their starter, so it doesn’t appear as though there are any plans to work Burns back onto the field this season, barring an injury, at least for the moment.