After a first half in which the Cincinnati Bengals assaulted Coty Sensabaugh, and forced him to the bench, the Pittsburgh Steelers saw themselves relying on third-round rookie Cameron Sutton. Sutton was injured early in the preseason and started his rookie season on the Injured Reserve. He returned to practice on November first, was brought onto the 53-man roster on November 21st and while he has not played, he has been active in an emergency role.
It was an emergency on Monday, and he played the entire second half on defense in a comeback win for his first career snaps. Game flow and the Steelers hogging the ball limited his participation, but Sutton finished with 24 defensive snaps in his NFL debut. How did the rookie look, and should he remain the starter until Joe Haden gets healthy?
While the Bengals relentlessly picked on Coty Sensabaugh in the first half, they seemed to have had more respect for Cameron Sutton. They did go at him on the first play of the second half with A.J. Green, but Sutton held his ground. Sutton gave Green a lot of space, no surprise given his first career snap is against an All-Time player. He was concerned with getting beat deep, and Green took advantage, creating space for a comeback. The pass was not great, but the recovery by Sutton was tremendous. He dives in to help break the pass up, and start his career 0-1 in coverage.
He was only thrown at one more time in the half. Andy Dalton completed a 27-yard outpost to Brandon LaFell down the sideline. The Steelers were in zone, and Sutton had the underneath, while Robert Golden had the deep half. You can see that while Sutton could be held responsible, he played his part, and forced a great pass in between two defenders down the sideline. It is tough to get mad at the rookie for this one.
The only other time Dalton even looked his way was a comeback route. Dalton saw that Sutton was in stride and showed good pattern matching with his wide receiver. Dalton quickly looked away before having a pass batted down at the line. Sutton does a great job of watching his receivers feet to his break and follows him on the comeback step for step.
There can be some pros and cons taken away from the play below. First, the rookie finds himself out of position. He gets locked onto A.J. Green for a split second too long, and realizes he is in zone, and has to protect the outside, where the tight end is running a wheel route. While he does show a good ability to recover and shut off the throwing lane, the quick crosses at the line, and how Sutton reacts to those will be something to watch. A faster tight end could burn Sutton down the sideline, and other teams will test him with these split decisions to pass players off.
Sutton did not see much action doing ground work. However, he did come in this play and show gap discipline to set the edge and force a run to the inside. Sutton sets up in good position, he takes on the block, and you can see the running back respect that the outside is not worth running towards.
Overall, it is way too limited of a sample size to know what Sutton can bring. The recovery and an incompletion watching A.J. Green on his first career snap will be something to build on. However, now he has to grow. The Steelers cannot go back to Coty Sensabaugh. Sutton showed nothing on Monday to say that he cannot start for the next couple of weeks. Expect the team to give him the starting spot again on Sunday.