While the Pittsburgh Steelers are seemingly attempt to play things close to the vest this week in terms of whether or not they intend to make any personnel changes in the starting lineup, the signs from practice over the past several days indicate that Artie Burns will play, if not start, tomorrow against the New England Patriots.
The third-year cornerback had been a starter from the middle of his rookie season through the first couple of games of his third before he was demoted into rotational work with Coty Sensabaugh. Following a disciplinary issue due to tardiness, Burns was left on the bench in the game following the bye week and never came off under normal circumstances.
With a three-game losing streak calling things into question, however, he has apparently gotten a lot of work with the first-team defense, and everybody is saying things that come up just short of absolutely guaranteeing that he is going to play.
His would-be pairing starter, Joe Haden, was the most enthusiastic of all to see the work that Burns was given, and that he put in, during the week leading up to the Patriots game. “Artie, man, I’m happy for him”, he said.
Haden, who was signed in August last year as a veteran, now in his ninth year and with a couple of Pro Bowls under his belt, quickly became a leader in the secondary. He has frequently been the go-to quote over the course of the past two months whenever somebody has had a question about Burns, talking about how he has tried to work with him and keep his spirits up.
“He was able to keep his head all the way right in what he did, losing a starting spot, and he never wavered”, Haden said, though I suppose that depends on exactly what he means. Burns was pretty open about noting that his confidence had suffered due to his poor performances.
While Sensabaugh is a veteran presence who is not going to make a lot of obvious mistakes, he is not much of an asset in the secondary, and with a defense looking for anybody with even a hint of ball skills, it looks like they are going back to Burns, who had four interceptions and 26 passes defensed in his first two seasons.
Sunday’s game will be no easy task going up against Tom Brady and likely Josh Gordon, who has been a deep threat since the Patriots have acquired him. He has averaged 18 yards per reception in New England, and Burns has allowed a good percentage of the Steelers’ longest passing plays.
Even the coaching staff has said that they won’t know what he looks like until he’s back out there in a live situation, so playing him again is a calculated risk. Perhaps they feel at a point in their season in which they have to gamble in order to get where they want to go.