When looking upon the early beginnings of Artie Burns’ second season in the NFL, his body of work through three games with the Pittsburgh Steelers is not without blemish, but there is also evident growth, both in the mental and physical aspects of the game.
The former first-round pick is much quicker to diagnose plays and respond to them, and he has also gotten stronger and more aggressive. At the same time, he is still drawing penalties on a weekly basis, and some of his run fills on Sunday were not pretty.
But then there are plays like this, a screen pass early in the game, with the Bears bunching three receivers to the left. Burns and Mike Hilton both played it very well, ultimately forcing the receiver to try to work his way back inside, but the cornerback was there to finish the tackle for no gain.
Later on, toward the end of the third quarter, he was playing off-coverage against Markus Wheaton on third and long. Wheaton got him breaking outside briefly at the top of an in route, but Burns recovered quickly and did a great job of getting in front of the pass to break it up. His good work was unfortunately undone by a questionable roughing the passer call.
That wasn’t the only time Wheaton was targeted with Burns in coverage. Late in the first half, the ball his way on a go route. Burns got a little punch in at the line, but Wheaton did get behind him a bit. He got away with a bit of pass interference here, but he did recover well. While he couldn’t reach the ball, he did bat Wheaton’s hand to prevent him from closing both on the ball.
But unfortunately the overtime period was as ugly for him as it was for everybody else on the Steelers’ defense. He clearly lost his assignment on the third play of the period, an 18-yard run, trying to play the perimeter but falling trying to recover as the back cut inside. You can tell from Anthony Chickillo’s reaction—throwing his arms up and shaking his head at Burns—whose mistake this was. Chickillo had the perimeter. Burns didn’t fill.
To top things off, he was a victim of a hold on the game-ending play one snap later, which was in full view of the goal line judge. I really still don’t understand how this one wasn’t called.
The important thing to remember with a player like Burns is that he is still a really young player who is continuing to develop and mature on the fly. He has undoubtedly made notable progress, but there are still important areas to work on.