When Joe Haden went down with a leg injury, the Pittsburgh Steelers did not have the depth to help out behind him. Coty Sensabaugh was the first to step in, but he got attacked to the point of being benched. Cam Sutton and Sensabaugh switched in and out a bit and ended with Sutton, a third round rookie who spent most of the season on the injured reserve making his first start against the New England Patriots.
Tom Brady puts Artie Burns to the test
Before the Patriot game, this had been an obvious weak spot that other teams have taken advantage of. You can see below that in the two weeks up leading up to the Patriot game, the Bengals and Ravens consistently picked on that side.
It is worth noting that when Sutton came in for Sensabaugh against the Bengals, that the Bengals began to seek other options. Nonetheless, this has spared Artie Burns, who had hit a rough patch of games before the Haden injury. Statistcially, it looks as if Burns had made strides. In reality, teams are not even considering him as Sensabaugh has given up free yards.
Still, Tom Brady, who had a big game picking on Burns in the AFC Championship remembered Burns. In comparison to the the passer chart of Dalton and Flacco, Brady spread the ball out much more.
In fact, Brady was 4-7 for 67 yards when throwing Burns in this game. In the AFC Championship, they were forcing Burns to come up and make tackles. It was not pretty. On Sunday, they got most of their big yardage against Burns on one big play. Burns has responsibility for the left side. Mike Mitchell is responsible for taking away the middle of the field. There is one receiver running that route and he is on the left side. Burns has to hedge back further. Instead, the double reverse play action has Burns thinking and looking into the backfield. as the receiver, who he passed off, is cutting back inside. Hook, line, sinker.
Brady and Josh McDaniels were ready to pick on Burns. However, going 3-6 for 24 yards from there is an impressive bounce back compared to his first duel with Brady.
Below, Burns uses his size to push Brandin Cooks so far to the sideline that the only room he had to get down the field was out of bounds. This was great technique to take away his space.
With the return of Joe Haden looming, it is fair to say that Brady once again will be testing the first round to pick to prove his status in the NFL. Burns showed some growth as the game went on, but still is susceptible to being caught for a game changing pass. The Patriots know how to attack Burns and are clear in their intentions to do so. It will be interesting to see how he continues to progress, as he becomes a key piece in this growing rivalry.