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Steelers News: Morgan Burnett’s return to the lineup will bring versatility to the defense

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back-to-back winners for the first time in this 2018 season after a solid performance vs. the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 6. With the team now able to relax on their bye-week in Week 7, they will hope to improve on their 3-2-1 record by beating the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens in Weeks 8 and 9.

Something I did last season and I’m going to start again is the Black-and-gold Links article.

This is an article where I take stories from quality news sources across the Internet and add them here for your viewing pleasure. I won’t be posting the entire articles, but I’ll link each story and author so that you can read the full article.

Today we talk about how the return of Steelers safety Morgan Burnett can be a huge help in the versatility department for the Pittsburgh defense coming off the bye week.

Let’s get to the news:

Burnett’s impending return brings creativity to Steelers defense

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Joe Haden seemed to be caught off guard by the question.

The Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback was asked Thursday morning whether the package that features seven defensive backs was still a part of the team’s playbook.

Haden took a second to ponder it.

“I think so,” he said.

Forgive Haden for the uncertainty. After all, the Steelers haven’t used the dollar formation since the season opener – and even then seven defensive backs were on the field for a single play.

For all of the talk about the dollar subpackage being a viable option on certain passing downs and for all of the time devoted to practicing it in training camp, the Steelers haven’t used the formation since early in the first quarter Sept. 9 at Cleveland.

But with veteran strong safety Morgan Burnett nearing a return after a four-game, five-week absence, the Steelers might dust the cobwebs off the dollar when the play the Browns again Sunday at Heinz Field.

Rookie first-round pick Terrell Edmunds moved into the starting strong safety spot because of Burnett’s groin injury, and he’s expected to remain in the lineup. That means Burnett will play in some subpackages, likely the quarters formation (three safeties, three cornerbacks) or dollar.

“He has a unique skill set, and he’s a guy we want to have out on the field,” Haden said. “I think having him back will make it more flexible for us.”

The Steelers gave Burnett a three-year, $14.35 million contract to replace Mike Mitchell in the secondary, with Sean Davis moving to free safety. His arrival as a safety/hybrid linebacker after eight years in Green Bay also was supposed to make up for the loss of inside linebacker Ryan Shazier.

Burnett, though, has been in the training room more than the field. Counting the preseason, he has missed six of the past eight games because of injury. This week, Burnett has practiced on consecutive days for the first time since early September.

Asked how Burnett can help the Steelers, defensive coordinator Keith Butler said, “Tremendously. He’s had a good week of practice. We miss him, and I’m glad he’s back.”

In his absence, the Steelers have used Cameron Sutton as a safety in the quarters package but have been reluctant to deploy the dollar.

“Sometimes game situations predict how much dollar we can play,”Butler said. “(Burnett) was certainly a big part of that. We had to play the guys we had. Sometimes we changed personnel. Sometimes we didn’t.”

Burnett is equipped to play a hybrid spot in subpackages because of his size. At 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, he’s two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Sutton.

“He adds a physical presence for us,” outside linebacker Bud Dupree said. “He can play in the box, he can cover guys, be a safety. He’s a big body who can bring it down hill.”

Steelers to get 1st look at Browns’ No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The average NFL experience level for the starting quarterbacks for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first six opponents this year is nine seasons. Just one played fewer than eight years as a pro.

That will change in a major way Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, who will start rookie Baker Mayfield. The No. 1 overall pick in April, Mayfield will be making his fifth NFL start.

“He’s a young guy, but he’s a spirited guy,” Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “He’s peppy and excited about playing. I think he’s a real competitor for them, and he’s going to bring that to the game.”

When the Steelers played the Browns in Cleveland seven weeks ago, eight-year veteran Tyrod Taylor was their starter. Mayfield replaced him during the Week 3 Thursday night game against the New York Jets and promptly led the Browns to their first victory in two years.

He’s 1-3 as a starter since, with two of the defeats (and the win) coming in overtime.

“You see (Mayfield’s competitiveness) when you play their tape,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “I think it goes beyond the playmaking that he brings. I think he’s a catalyst for them. I think he inspires others with his spirit and how he approaches it. I think his inclusion and play has been a positive thing for them.”

Mayfield has completed 57.8 percent of his passes for 1,291 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions for a 78.5 rating. He also has 82 rushing yards on 14 attempts.

Befitting his image, Mayfield has been one of the most aggressive quarterbacks in the league. Among current starters, he ranks fourth in the league in average intended air yards (9.2 per attempt, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats). Also, 17.6 percent of his passes are thrown into a tight window (defined by when a defender within 1 yard or less of the receiver at the time of completion or incompletion).

“He’s got a good arm. He’s got a REALLY good arm,” Butler said. “He’s got a cannon on him, and I think he’s a smart guy.”

Kevin Gorman: Artie Burns bounce-back game critical for Steelers

By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Cornerback has become the most critical position for the Pittsburgh Steelers, so it shouldn’t surprise that any conversation about their corners involves criticism of Artie Burns.

Where Burns is trying to bounce back from his fourth-quarter benching against the Cincinnati Bengals by “getting better and winning a Super Bowl,” the Steelers know the latter depends on the former from their 2016 first-round pick.

In a week when his teammates actively campaigned for the Steelers to trade for Arizona Cardinals six-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin suggested Burns smile through the face of adversity, Burns instead responded to trade talk with a stiff upper lip Thursday in the locker room at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

“I don’t really care,” Burns said. “If I get traded, I get traded. I’ll still have a job somewhere else. I’m here to work.”

What if the Steelers trade for a cornerback?

“If they do, they do,” Burns said. “I don’t really pay attention to that.”

Burns spent the bye and this week paying attention to details, with a focus on fundamentals. That was the rap on Burns coming out of Miami, that he had the size and speed but was a raw talent.

Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback Rod Woodson was among his most vocal critics after the Steelers’ 28-21 victory over the Bengals on Oct. 14, especially after Burns gave a 10-yard cushion and backpedaled three steps into the end zone on Tyler Boyd’s 14-yard touchdown catch.

Woodson brought up an interesting point in an interview on 93.7 FM, subscribing to the same suspicion I’ve had about Burns: His greater struggle is with confidence, not technique.

“You’d think all players who are in the National Football League have the utmost confidence in who they are and their ability and they can cover any receiver … and that’s not the case all the time,” Woodson told 93.7. “A lot of times, I don’t know if everybody always believes in the guy that they see in the mirror. But, at the end of the day, you have to believe in who he is and that he can accomplish and play in this league because if you don’t believe it, it’s not going to happen.

“If he lost it for some reason, can he get it back? Absolutely. He just needs to have a couple good games. All players are going to have some bad games. But they can’t be error repeaters.”

The Artie Burns who challenged Antonio Brown in practice every day, the one who picked off passes from Ben Roethlisberger during training camp has been missing this season. Burns hasn’t been the same since he was benched in Week 3 and started rotating with Coty Sensabaugh.

“There’s a storm, sometimes. You’ve just got to weather it and come back to what you do,” Burns said. “It’s just football. You deal with things. One week, you may be up. One week, you may be down. … I think corner gets judged the hardest.”

That’s true, and the Steelers have shown the willingness, if not downright desperation, to address positions or players they deem problems. They traded for tight end Vance McDonald and signed cornerback Joe Haden and dealt cornerback Ross Cockrell and receiver Sammie Coates last year — all signs of a win-now mode.

But the Steelers rank 27th in the league against the pass this season, and they can’t continue to watch Burns allow big pass plays and draw costly penalties. So they are his harshest critics at the moment, especially because they have the most invested in Burns and know giving up on him could be costly for future salary-cap implications.