As we will do every Saturday to get you ready for the week’s game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. What will make or break the Pittsburgh Steelers for Sunday night’s matchup as they look to end their losing streak against the New England Patriots.
X Factor: Artie Burns
Ready or not, Artie’s back. Burns is expected to be inserted into the lineup this weekend for the first time in nearly ten weeks.
Why the change? I assume he’s strung together impressive practices. One things Burns does do consistently, maybe the only thing he does consistently (besides piss off Steelers’ Nation), is have good showings in practice. The Steelers have to run more man coverage than normal and Burns, on paper, is the better matchup. Size, speed, man coverage ability, I guess, though Burns has struggled there too just as he has in zone.
Their alternative is Coty Sensabaugh. He’s the Saltine cracker of a football team. Inoffensive, nothing terrible about it, but if that’s what you’re bringing to the party, you’re going to be laughed out of the room.
It’s not the move I would’ve made but it’s more palatable than their apparent decision to bench Mike Hilton for Cam Sutton.
But if there’s a dude to constantly be scared about, it’s Burns. Can you trust him to not make mistakes? Read the route, play disciplined, solid fits in the run game. You know the Pats are going to test him early, I bet they throw at him the first play, and see if they can rattle him. Karl Dunbar has his “fish of the week,” the opposing offensive linemen you can win against. For the Patriots, in the secondary, that fish is Burns.
Burns may also see Rob Gronkowski a couple times too. Not in the slot, at least, I’m hoping not. But Gronkowski is going to be isolated to the outside several times and I can see Burns match up on him in those instances. Better than a safety, where you lose a possible run fit or are forced to play single high, and definitely better than a linebacker. I think it helps disguise the Steelers’ coverage better, making it harder to know if you’re seeing man or zone coverage. And again, on paper, Burns is a better matchup than Sensabaugh, who has negative ball skills at cornerback.
Maybe he will surprise. I know that’s woefully optimistic from me but that’s why he’s the X Factor. If he can have a strong game, or even just make a play or two, it could be the difference between a win or loss. And for this game, a win or loss is the difference between making the playoffs or going home.