With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and there soon being little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first eight games with a 6-2 record, tied for the best in the AFC along with the Patriots and the Chiefs, the latter of whom they have already beaten.
The offense has not lived up to its billing for the most part this year, though the running game has had its moments. Defensively, the sacks have come, and the secondary has improved, but there will always be things to work on.
Player: Artie Burns, CB
I get the sense that a lot of people would love it if Steelers second-year cornerback Artie Burns would give them a great reason to make him their new favorite player. It’s frankly been a while since the team could last sincerely claim that a cornerback was their best defensive player on the team.
While Burns is not there—not yet anyway—he has shown some important growth from his rookie season to now. The problem is that he has also shown important continuing deficiencies in other areas in which he already struggled last year.
Run support continues to be a particular issue of concern, as he still appears to shy away from contact, does not tackle soundly, and lacks execution of his responsibilities in certain scenarios, as when he is asked to crack and replace—a failure whose error often makes other players look back instead of him upon first blush.
And he still has issues in coverage as well. In zone coverage, he has a tendency to get caught looking into the backfield without moving, resulting in the wide receiver being able to slip behind him. He has been saved a few times this season by dropped passes from who whom he has defended.
It would be a disservice, and dishonest, to paint a completely negative portrait of the young player, however, as he has truly made some strides in some areas, even if some lack a desired level of consistency in execution or discipline.
While he hasn’t been able to come down with a pass yet, he has recorded six passes defensed. He has shown an ability to play effectively when he has been allowed to focus on man coverage. When executed properly, he has a good jam off the line and some makeup speed as well.
Burns is already a solid starter, albeit one prone to mistakes. He has the potential to be much more than that. He is still 22 years old, and will continue to get better. Hopefully he shows the sort of end-of-year growth in 2017 that he did from the beginning of his rookie season to its conclusion.