Artie Burns: ‘Whenever We Need It, We Will Go’ To Man Coverage

The Pittsburgh Steelers spent a lot of time in the offseason talking about the need to improve their ability to execute out of man coverage, but that has not necessarily translated into actually using man coverage with greater frequency than they ordinarily would have under different circumstances.

Nor does that mean that they haven’t been working on it. Jeremy Fowler writes for ESPN that the team practices man coverages on a weekly basis, while Artie Burns told him that the defense has not used the entire defensive playbook as of yet.

While you may have read reports about the Steelers running the fewest instances of man coverage league-wide, that could be misleading, because that report referenced exclusively instances of pure man coverage across the board, when the truth is that the team runs a lot of modified coverages that mix man and zone in the same look.

Burns, for example, told Fowler that he would estimate he has played in man roughly 35 percent of the time so far this season, while I recall earlier this season that Joe Haden told Aditi Kinkhabwala a few weeks ago that he felt he was running it closer to 50 percent of the time.

It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the rough guesses of either cornerback were an exaggeration of the actual number, but the point is that, while they might not have used pure man coverage with a significant increase in frequency, they have incorporated elements of it more into their overall blend.

But one wonders if they have run it enough to prepare themselves for the instances in which they will need it most, such as against the New England Patriots, which even the Steelers talk about. “The quarterback’s got to be patting the ball”, Burns, who was the biggest proponent of using more man coverage in the summer, told Fowler. “Then we can mix in some zone too; that’s when the picks come”.

In truth, the last time the Steelers beat the Patriots in 2011 was an instance in which they sprung a man coverage approach on them, after not having done so robustly during the season prior to that point. There was Ike Taylor, of course, who frequently was left to his own devices, but the rest of the defense was typically in pure zone.

“Whenever we need it, we will go” to man coverage, Burns told Fowler. “We’re playing teams that want to put the ball down the field. We’ve been training for this, the chance to play good receivers and quarterbacks. We’ve got a little stretch where we’re going to keep seeing teams that throw the ball. We’ve got to start honing on our technique”.

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Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Ichabod

    “Whenever we need it” I’m wondering about the Lions game. 425 yds. How much “man” did they play?

  • falconsaftey43

    I didn’t chart it, but there were times they played it for sure. Two plays in particular stick out (because they were bad, doesn’t mean they were only times they played man or it was always bad). The early big play were Burns lost track of his guy and Stafford scrambled left and threw it deep (possible this was pattern match, but looked like man). The other was a 3rd and 10 later in the game and everyone was covered but Stafford scrambled left and got the first down running it (definitely man).

  • falconsaftey43

    oh yeah, there was also a play late where they were in man, but Williams messed up and thought they were in zone and let Ebron get that big gain off a crossing route. Again, only the bad plays stick out in my mind, don’t usually remember what coverage they ran on a sack or incomplete pass or 5 yard gain etc.

  • Ichabod

    Appreciate the comeback. I think if they plan to count on man when they need it, they ought to use it s little more frequently to make sure they are adept at it

  • hdogg48

    I’m hoping that they rotate in Debo for Watt or Dupree
    and Alahu for Tuitt and Hargraves more in the second
    half. Include Chick in this mix as well.

    Having FRESH guys in on the pass rush will go a long
    way toward playing a successful man scheme going forward.


    A mix is the ideal situation IMO. Having a QB take even a couple more seconds pre-snap as opposed to KNOWING what he will face is by itself of value.
    We aren’t under the illusion that playing man will beat Brady – he has seen too much and it has been well documented that he is highly successful vs either man or zone.
    But the competitive advantage of MAKING him analyze/ diagnose the coverage he is facing occupies grey matter in between his ears that could be used for other purposes pre-snap. As opposed to walking to the line already KNOWING that we will be in zone.
    We were within eight points of them halfway thru the 3rd quarter in the AGCCG. Eight points, one score. Without Bell. With only one truly championship-caliber WR.
    And with only one mode of secondary coverage.

  • falconsaftey43

    yeah, I don’t disagree with that. But it should be a lot easier to implement than the pattern matching stuff they have been doing more of in the early goings. Doesn’t get any simpler from a scheme and knowing what to do stand point than man. Being able to successfully do it is another manner, but not hard to know what you’re supposed to do.


    I’m not really worried about it at this point…I see enough athleticism and coverage skills on the back end now to know they can play man…when and how often they decide to…is Butler’s/Tomlin’s call.

    We’ll see going forward, but I think they will show some vs NE whom will no doubt be ready for it, but I don’t expect them to really show a lot of man.

  • Intense Camel

    I don’t think we a have any other choice but to have full confidence that Artie and Joe will take their man out of the game against the Pats. Let them play heavy man to man on the outside against the Past and give everyone else zone responsibilities on top of it. If he beats them, then so be it. Don’t play bland coverage schemes like cover 2/cover 3 and drop 8 the entire game. Mix it up, show some variety in the coverages and blitzes. Stop with the predictable soft zones, play more bump and run to disrupt those easy underneath routes whether it be man or zone, Give the LBs and safeties a chance to make plays in the middle instead of forcing them to make open field tackles on unimpeded receivers. That will also give an extra second for the pass rush to get home.

    There’s literally nothing to lose, It’s almost damned if you do, damned if you don’t with this D against Brady so they might as well take some risks. I think they are good enough to cause him some problems this year but only if they attack and force the issue. They cannot just sit back and hope he makes mistakes.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I personally think Haden & Hilton will make a huge difference in the game against the Patriots! Just play within yourself and don’t be scared! I don’t think scheme beat us, I think a combination of playing scared and players we had played part in it along with a number of unfortunate circumstances leading up to the AFC championship game.

  • Steelerfan4lifeinAZ

    Let’s just hope that they go to more man to man to get prepared to play against Brady incase we need to make any adjustments prior. Dec 17th is marked on my calendar can’t wait… along with a scheduled day off for Monday lol..

  • PittShawnC

    Agree 100%. Whether it was man, zone whatever…there was no counterpunch by Butler and Co. once Stafford established to everyone watching the game he had our D figured out.

    Just like last January.

  • Rotten Sircus

    I’d like to see Artie Grab more picks rather than knock the ball down but teams aren’t scoring on Artie which shows his progression & that I Love !!!

  • Chuck Anderson

    Did you mean Alualu for Tuitt and *Heyward* not Hargrave? We’re already keeping Javon fresh – a little too fresh (too few snaps) for my liking… he’s been enormously effective when he’s out there, and either Butler or maybe Tomlin just the other day expressed a desire to find him more snaps.

  • Steeler4l1f3

    Agree 100% , we need to keep the rotation going and offer our pass rush opportunities to match up against different players. Move guys around and keep players healthy

  • #7

    “Dammit Artie! You just gave Tom Brady and the Patriots the game plan. You can’t do that with Tom Brady and the Patriots. This season is over. We’ll never beat Tom Brady and the Patriots”

  • Steve Johnson

    If you’re going to execute something, don’t you need to practice it and then implement it on Sunday’s? I guess the Coaches know exactly what they’re doing. I recall that game in 2011 and the opening game back in 2014 or 2015 after the Patriots won the Super Bowl. The Steelers were right in both of those games and the Defense lined up and played Man-To-Man.