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Steelers News: Will the Steelers’ defensive changes pay dividends vs. the Patriots?

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

Divisional Round - Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have seen better days than they are currently experiencing. The black-and-gold have dropped three straight games, after losing to the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders in consecutive weeks. Now they turn their attention to another AFC opponent, the New England Patriots, in Week 15.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at how several changes, namely Artie Burns and Cam Sutton being inserted into the lineup, could possibly be a difference maker for the Steelers as they prepare for New England this Sunday.

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers’ Cameron Sutton gets 2nd shot against Patriots

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

It was a year ago almost to the day cornerback Cameron Sutton made his first NFL start. And it came against Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots.

Three-hundred sixty-four days and just one pro start later, Sutton again is the most significant part of a Pittsburgh Steelers weekly defensive gameplan as he has been all year. Again, it’s Week 15, again it’s at Heinz Field, again it’s a big game.

And, yes, again it’s against five-time Super Bowl champion Brady and the Patriots.

“One thing you know about him,” veteran teammate Joe Haden said, “he’s not afraid. Not of the opponent, not of anything.

“He’s going to be up there in people’s faces, getting hands on receivers and being very combative, just trying to disrupt. That’s all you can ask for — not being afraid and being confident when you’re in man-to-man coverage.”

Going on almost two decades, the Steelers have tried just about everything to slow down Brady. On Sunday, their defensive plan is to get physical with the New England receivers.

“Getting hands on guys,” Haden said, “is what (Steelers coaches) want this game.”

Sorry, Mike Hilton and Coty Sensabaugh, you’re apparently just not nasty enough in the eyes of Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and Tom Bradley.

Enter Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton.

For Burns, it’s a return to the starting lineup after a two-month exile.

For Sutton, it’s another potential coming-out party for the 2017 third-round pick. Last year, after spending more than half the season on injured reserve and two games of sharing time with Sensabaugh at left cornerback in place of an injured Haden, Sutton wrested the full-time gig away from Sensabaugh at a most inopportune time: when the passing game of future season MVP Brady came to town.

“And he did a really, really good job,” Haden said.

Sutton played all but two of the Steelers’ 59 defensive snaps and was targeted just three times, according to Pro Football Focus. Though he did allow a 4-yard touchdown to Brandin Cooks, Sutton allowed just three catches and 17 receiving yards all game long.

“I just remember the electric atmosphere,” Sutton said of the third NFL regular-season game he played in.

“Obviously, now, another opportunity this Sunday at home, same team.”

This time, Sutton won’t be playing just because of injury, nor will he be playing the same position he did the last time the Steelers faced the Patriots. Sutton was the apparent choice of the Steelers defensive staff over two-year starting slot cornerback Hilton.

Other than last year’s New England game, Sutton’s only other start was in Week 4 of this season against Baltimore. That was in the slot, but it was because Hilton was injured.

It has been part of a sophomore NFL season for Sutton in which he has played hybrid dime linebacker, slot corner and outside cornerback (the latter mostly in Weeks 1-2 when Haden was injured).

Does that make Sutton a versatile jack-of-all-trades or simply a young player who has mastered none?

“Kind of just got to take it for what it is and find the balance in all of it and just work to try to perfect that craft of each of those positions,” Sutton said. “Obviously, it’s a tough thing to do when you’re bouncing back and forth, but… I like it.”

‘We believe in Artie, man’ – Steelers confident Burns can step in big game against Patriots

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Artie Burns, as he has over his three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, politely answered questions after practice Friday.

What made this week of practice so different, though, was that it was in which he had apparently re-gained his starting outside cornerback spot after he’d lost it two months earlier.

“It’s a long season,” Burns said with a smile. “If you guys (in the media) write a bad report, they won’t fire you guys right?”

Typically, no. And the Steelers didn’t fire Burns, either. They, of course, kept him on the 53-man roster.

They did, however, diminish his playing time, giving him only 11 defensive snaps over the past seven games.

That by all indications is changing for what is the Steelers’ biggest game of the season: Sunday against the New England Patriots. Burns has confirmed he’s been getting first-team reps this week.

“Artie, man, I’m happy for him,” veteran cornerback Joe Haden said. “He was able to keep his head all the way right in what he did, losing a starting spot, and he never wavered.

“I think he’s going to play very well.”

Though the Steelers’ actions suggested they’d lost faith in Burns when they elected to give veteran Coty Sensabaugh all of the playing time across from Haden as an outside corner, their actions this week – in what is annually a game they point to, and with their playoff lives on the line – prove just the opposite.

Steelers coaches have faith in Burns.

While in part it could be attributed to a gameplan thing because of Burns’ size and man coverage strengths (the Steelers also are replacing diminutive slot corner Mike Hilton with the more combative Cameron Sutton), it also is undeniable that coach Mike Tomlin, defensive coordinator Keith Butler or secondary coach wouldn’t do this if they didn’t feel comfortable Burns could handle the job.

Burns demurred when asked if he took his expended role this week that way. But when pressed, he was rescued by teammate T.J. Watt.

“We believe in Artie, man,” the eavesdropping outside linebacker said. “That’s not a question for him to answer. We believe in Artie.”

Mark Madden: Ben Roethlisberger is Steelers’ only hope Sunday

By: Mark Madden, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Sunday’s biggest football game is Liverpool vs. Manchester United. Would I trade a Steelers loss to New England for a Liverpool victory over the Mancs? You don’t want to know that answer. But enjoy these refreshing Steelers notes.

• The Steelers’ lone chance to win Sunday depends on Ben Roethlisberger. Defense and special teams are lost causes. The coaching is out to lunch. The receivers are top-notch but obviously depend on Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger isn’t the best hope. He’s the only hope. It’s not about outplaying Tom Brady. It’s about Roethlisberger being better than his defense is bad, and that defense is playing against Brady.

• Roethlisberger has thrown 13 interceptions, drawing criticism for his gunslinger mentality. That’s too many picks, but it would be nice if the Steelers defense gave Roethlisberger a short field occasionally. If the defense had the NFL’s median number of takeaways (19), they would be minus-2 in turnovers. But they have just 13, and are minus-8. In light of that, maybe Roethlisberger should take less risk.

• Question: Why was there so much hype for Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers on Nov. 4 and so little for Brady vs. Roethlisberger now? Answer: Because Rodgers is badly overrated by the national media, Roethlisberger badly underrated. Especially this year, when the latter has kept an average team afloat and the former couldn’t.

• The Steelers kept Chris Boswell to save money and avoid eating his cap hit, not because he’s the kicker who gives them the best chance to win. (Kai Forbath reportedly had an excellent audition Wednesday.) That’s a move straight out of Bob Nutting’s playbook. It’s not a good look for the Steelers, especially after saving $14.5 million when Le’Veon Bell decided to not play.

• The tryout for kickers was a charade. Boswell’s participation guaranteed he would be kept. It was a waste of time for the other kickers, Forbath and Matt McCrane.

Shaun Suisham has been hired to work with Boswell. Boswell replaced Suisham in 2015 when the latter was hurt. So the kicker who lost his job is coaching the kicker who took it. Suisham never missed an extra point in 71 games with the Steelers. Boswell has missed five this season. Perhaps the teaching could start there.

• The Steelers defense is rotten, and it’s not about coaching. They have just 4-5 players who could start for a solid NFL defense. The great unwashed thinks coaching and scheme can remedy. But what scheme could the Steelers use that makes up for an abject lack of talent at linebacker and defensive back? Except for T.J. Watt and Joe Haden, all those players stink. That’s why firing defensive coordinator Keith Butler at season’s end shouldn’t be automatic. You can’t shine excrement. Consider also the reports that Mike Tomlin often commandeers the defense, usurping Butler.

• Veteran NFL linebackers coach Jim Herrmann assisted the Steelers in practice. That makes one wonder about the usefulness of current ‘backers coaches Jerry Olsavsky and Joey Porter, and if Herrmann will replace one. Or replace Butler.

• Tomlin’s defenders often cite his impressive regular-season record. When did Pittsburgh become a regular-season town?

• Yanking Mike Hilton (5-foot-9, 189 pounds) in favor of Jordan Dangerfield (5-11, 198) because Dangerfield’s extra two inches and nine pounds will enable the Steelers to better deal with the size of New England tight end Rob Gronkowski (6-6. 265) seems a reach. Hilton has been the regular at nickel dating to 2016. He’s a proven quality. But anything’s worth a try, because Gronkowski figures to decimate the Steelers. They don’t have a player or scheme that can reasonably handle Gronkowski.

• Cornerback Artie Burns will reportedly start. That won’t make Steelers fans flush with optimism. But Burns has talent. He should be hungry after playing just 11 defensive snaps over the past seven games (including one in the past four).

• The “explanations” from Tomlin and Roethlisberger regarding the latter missing four series at Oakland served to confuse, not clarify. That was the intent. Blaming an X-ray machine was savvy. Inanimate objects can’t talk, let alone refute.