Artie Burns opened the game against the New England Patriots as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting right outside cornerback. When the nickel cornerback came on the field, it was Cameron Sutton who was out there on the field first.
That is what we were led to expect heading into the game, the staff evidently seeking to make changes in the secondary in order to shake things up. Those changes didn’t last long, however, as Burns was pretty much only on the field for the first short opening drive that ended in a long touchdown on a blown coverage.
It was Coty Sensabaugh the rest of the way, and Mike Hilton was back on the field as well after that, though Sutton still saw time on the field. So what happened and why? Even if it wasn’t the new pieces’ fault, did the blown coverage scare the staff back into going back to the usual components? Perhaps it was even a smokescreen to give the Patriots something different to plan for?
Hilton, in fact, ended up finishing second on the team with seven tackles, including five as the primary. That was only behind Joe Haden, who had 12 tackles on the evening. Sensabaugh and Burns each had just one solo tackle, while Sutton had a primary and an assist. None of them recorded any other type of statistic.
It’s hard to know what this means going forward, especially since we still have some analysis to do in the immediate aftermath of the game about just who was used, when, and in what contexts. But it seems that Burns will have to do more than just have a good week of practice to get more playing time.
As Dave Bryan wrote, Mike Tomlin said after the game that he was just more comfortable after giving up the big touchdown early with Sensabaugh’s veteran knowledge to better combat what the Patriots were looking to do on offense, particularly at an accelerated pace.
How will that translate into practice this week, and for a huge road game against the New Orleans Saints? If Tomlin decided that he wasn’t ready to trust Burns at home against Tom Brady this week, it’s hard to imagine he’ll find much more comfort with one more week’s worth of practice facing Drew Brees in his own stadium.
As for Sutton, the second-year cornerback has worn a number of hats this year already. Against an opponent like the Saints next week, it’s possible we even see the ‘dollar’ defense come back with seven defensive backs on the field—especially considering all the random names Brees has been throwing touchdowns to this year.