To the disappointment of many, Pittsburgh Steelers’ cornerback, Artie Burns, didn’t see much time on the field last weekend. The rookie defensive back appeared only thirteen defensive snaps against the Jets.
The Steelers kept their most experienced cornerbacks, William Gay and Ross Cockrell, on the field for all 58 defensive snaps. With Eric Decker missing from the Jets’ lineup due to a shoulder injury, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick targeted Brandon Marshall heavily. The Jets’ number one receiver caught eight passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. Quincy Enunwa caught four passes for 51 yards, while Robby Anderson and Charone Peake caught one pass apiece.
Burns received a healthy snap count in weeks three and four. He appeared in 39 snaps against the Eagles, and 64 against the Chiefs. The aforementioned thirteen snaps he received against the Jets were detrimental to his development as a defensive back. Recording two tackles in week five, Burns should see a return of his high number of snaps against Miami.
The Steelers travel to Florida to take on the Miami Dolphins in their second of four AFC East matchups. Unlike the Jets, the Dolphins have a healthy depth chart of wide receivers. The Steelers defense will be unable to lock on to one receiver like they did against Marshall last weekend. Defensive coordinator, Keith Butler, must get the most out of his first-round cornerback.
The Dolphins’ wide receiver corps, consisting of Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills, is a particularity talented group with a mediocre quarterback under center. Despite Ryan Tannehill‘s mediocrity, he still has the ability to move the ball down the field. How well the Steelers answer the Dolphins’ passing attack will largely determine the outcome of the game.
Miami’s run game is basically non-existent. Lamar Miller‘s move to Houston left the Dolphins with Jay Ajayi and Arian Foster to head the backfield. Foster suffered a groin injury in week two that has sidelined him for the past three games, leaving Ajayi the lead back. The Dolphins rank 31st on the ground with a whopping 72.4 yards a game. With Pittsburgh’s formidable run defense, expect Miami to go to the air early and often.
Landry serves as Tannehill’s most frequent target with 34 receptions for 403 yards and a touchdown. Standing at 5’11”, Burns has the advantage in height, but Landry is a very dangerous receiver when left unattended in open space. Landry will more than likely garner the attention of Cockrell, but the Steelers could switch up their assignments depending on the situation.
In the Dolphins’ overtime win against the Browns, Landry executed a double move on Jamar Taylor that gave the receiver copious amounts of open space. The 32-yard catch set up a touchdown run by Ajayi that sent the Browns back to Cleveland with a loss. Landry is by far Miami’s most dangerous receiver, and would serve as a formidable challenge for Burns.
The Dolphins’ first-round pick in 2015, Parker has only fifteen receptions this year, but may be the fastest receiver in Tannehill’s arsenal. He displayed his quickness last weekend against Tennessee when he beat Jason McCourty down the sideline for a fifty-yard gain. If Burns is not careful, the same could be done to him on Sunday.
Burns is no stranger to handling deep-threat receivers this year. Against Kansas City, he was tasked with covering Tyreek Hill, who ran a 4.24 40-yard dash at his pro day. Hill gained the upper hand on Burns at first, but the defensive back used his speed to close in on the receiver. His ability to catch the receiver and break up the pass was his second touchdown prevention of the year.
Aside from Parker, Kenny Stills is also a talented deep threat in the Dolphins’ receiver corps. Stills has recorded only five receptions this season, but one of them displayed his ability to get past defenders and get plenty of open space. Against the Bengals, he caught a 74-yard touchdown pass to give Cincinnati an early lead.
Slipping past defensive back, Shawn Williams, Stills breaks out of his route to fool his defender, giving him a wide-open stretch of field. Before the secondary could adjust, he was already on his way to the endzone, covering 3/4ths of the field. George Iloka provided safety help, but his attempt to catch Stills was in vain.
Should the Steelers implement more of their nickel and dime packages on defense, expect to see more of Burns on the field against the Dolphins on Sunday. With all the weapons at Tannehill’s disposal, they will more then likely attempt to target the least experienced member of the secondary. This will put Burns back on track in terms of development, test his ability to cover a host of talented receivers, and get a chance at the first interception of his professional career.