The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Morgan Burnett in the offseason thinking that, at least provided he was healthy, he would provide a stable and reliable presence for a secondary in need of just that. Injuries spoiled his opportunity to be that stable player in the starting lineup, but his performance is raising questions about his ability to even handle the tasks of dimebacker.
While he has been up and down throughout the season in the games in which he played, Burnett’s work on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders was particularly bad, and especially when he was asked to line up against tight end Jared Cook, who is on the verge of a late-career breakout for a Pro Bowl.
He gave up two early receptions to Cook easily in the first quarter, including this play on second and 10 for a 12-yard hook-up. There is no clear explanation as to why Burnett bailed on this play off the snap, making for an easy completion to cross past midfield.
It was later on the same drive that Derek Carr went back to that matchup again to convert on third and eight, again for a 12-yard connection. Burnett’s weak jam at the line of scrimmage coming out of the slot instantly put him behind the play and allowed Cook to just run away from him on an out route.
The worse offense of the day was late in the game on which he allowed a critical 39-yard play to Seth Roberts down the seam with just under two minutes to play. Under normal circumstances, you don’t even want to see Burnett asked to carry this route—exactly the reason the Raiders called for it—but the 29-year-old safety’s inability to keep up or to play either the man or the ball, ultimately jumping after the ball had already been caught, just does not look good at all.
The one play he made in coverage on the day is one that should not have even counted. On the Raiders’ penultimate play, on third and goal from the six, Burnett was able to defend a pass looking for Cook in the back left corner of the end zone.
The problem is that in doing so, he also hooked the tight end’s arm on what certainly could have been flagged as pass interference. It wasn’t called, so he got away with it, but the Raiders scored on the next play anyway, so it didn’t really make a difference.