Haden ‘Can’t Wait’ to See Burns Play Against Pats

Steelers beleaguered corner could return to lineup against Brady, New England

Josh Rowntree
December 13, 2018 - 1:57 pm
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Artie Burns (25) looks on before the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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Artie Burns may be back. Not that he ever left. 

Burns could work his way onto the field more Sunday when the Steelers host the New England Patriots, multiple players confirmed Thursday. 

Burns has played one defensive snap over the last four games and just eleven in the last seven games. Ten of those came in the blowout win over Carolina. The last noticeable sight of him came on a two-point conversion play against the Chargers two weeks ago, in which Burns let 38-year old tight end Antonio Gates blow by him for the score. Later in that game, he was part of the cavalcade of players to jump offside trying to block Los Angeles’ game-winning field goal.

“I’ve just been getting back in the lab, just waiting for my opportunity,” Burns said. “I’m just working every day. Just coming in and grinding, doing the right techniques and stuff like that.”

But can Burns make an impact, despite not playing much, at all, of late?

“I think that’s hard to say until you put him in live situations and it gets real, not just out here on the practice field,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

Burns played nearly every snap over the first two games of the season, but his role as a starting — or even contributing — cornerback completely dissipated during Pittsburgh’s 28-21 win over Cincinnati on October 14. 

“You just have to stay in it,” he said. “It’s a long season. Just keep grinding and whenever an opportunity comes, it comes. I’ve got to take advantage of it.”

“He shows a lot of things,” Butler added. “He’s done a lot of good things for us. I’m not going to comment on anybody starting or not starting though.”

His teammates have taken notice of his efforts to get back on the field. 

“In practice, that’s been the biggest thing,” corner Joe Haden said. “He hasn’t really been playing in games. But just effort, going hard, understanding his assignment, not pouting, just understand it’s a business and trying to do the best he can to get back on the field. And I think that’s what he’s done. I’m happy for him and can’t wait to see him go out there and play.”

Burns’s size could be a determining factor in the decision. Physically, he matches up better with the powerful, long receivers of New England, especially former Cleveland star Josh Gordon.

“I don’t really know,” Burns said of the specifics of his upcoming assignment. “I just do what the coaches ask of me and just keep working. However our gameplan dictates it.”

If it is Gordon he faces, it’s a gamble being taken by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Keith Butler. 

“He’s big, fast, strong,” Burns said of Gordon. “Everything that everybody usually says.”

“They’re getting him more and more and more involved,” Haden added. “He did look good against Miami (last week). He’s just doing the things he does. He’s a very good deep threat, he doesn’t care about going across the middle because he’s a big dude. He can get up to speed very fast. He is what he is, a very, very good receiver. We have to make sure to keep him in front of us.”

Group Gordon with All-Pro caliber tight end Rob Gronkowski and slot receiver threat Julian Edelman and Butler’s defense is in for one of it’s biggest tests of the season. The Patriots’ quarterback is pretty good, as well. 

In his career, Tom Brady is 11-1 against Pittsburgh, throwing for 3,830 yards, 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions. But, a year ago, the Steelers were with New England to the end, until Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception in the end zone to finish off another New England win.

“I think our gameplan last year was really good,” Burns said. “We just missed a couple of plays that turned out to make us lose the game.”

Unexpectedly, Burns may have a chance to make the plays this time around and, perhaps, turn his career around, too. 

“If it was me, in my experience, I would be on edge trying to play my best football game,” Butler said. “I think anybody that’s been in that situation and has had a chance to come back and play, you’re always going to try to be in your very best mind-frame and try to put out your best effort. And I think he’ll do that.”

Pittsburgh is, in all likelihood, facing a must win situation. So putting Burns into the starting lineup, something butler wouldn’t outright commit to Thursday, is a massive risk.

“Shoot, I hope it helps us,” Butler said. “We need some help.”