With the second half of his second season just now kicking off, we are now 19 starts into the career of Artie Burns. From a project who many considered the Steelers reached for to the number one starter on a top-five defense, the climb has not been as steady as it sounds.
As a rookie, teams attacked a lot. His ability to come up and play the ball carrier was questioned, and in the AFC Championship game was exposed in the loss.
His second season has shown progression for sure. He has now spent two offseasons going one-on-one with Antonio Brown, and it is clearly helping with his pattern matching, footwork, and ability to make plays on the ball in the air.
However, his two biggest struggles to date this season have still been coming up and making a play on ball carriers, and biting for fakes and losing his responsibility. Thursday night against the Tennessee Titans, both were on display.
You can see from Marcus Mariota’s passing chart below that the team relentlessly attacked the left side in the short passing game, even with an untested Coty Sensabaugh opposite of Artie Burns. Mariota was 5-6 when targeting Burns and 2-7 when targeting Sensabaugh on top of putting Burns into situations where he had to make tackles.
The other issue with Burns has been getting caught looking in the backfield at times. It can lead to big turnovers, but for the first 19 games of Burns career, it has been a bigger detriment than a helper. As shown below, one of the longest completions Burns allowed on the night, a 16-yard first down came because he was caught watching Mariota. Mariota sells that he is going deep, Burns bites, and Eric Decker is wide open on the sideline for a conversion.
Early in the season, it was DeShone Kizer, Case Keenum, Mike Glennon, Joe Flacco and Blake Bortles and Burns was cruising. Recently, it has been Alex Smith, Matt Stafford, Jacoby Brissett, and Mariota. It is no surprise that Burns has hit a wall at this point of the season.
With Haden out indefinitely, the time for Burns to make a big name for himself could be now. They finish with Andy Dalton, Brett Hundley, Tom Savage, Flacco, Kizer, and of course Tom Brady. One of those names is not like the other, and it gives Burns a chance to have a strong couple of games here if he can learn from his mistakes. Sensabaugh held up well on the other side, but if the secondary can make a push at the end of this season, Burns will get a lot of the national attention. Now is the time for Artie Burns to show growth, and show that the lessons from Brown have paid off. Now, the Steelers need Artie Burns to step up.