Don’t look now, but the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is slowly improving. No, they aren’t a Top 10 unit, nor a Top 20 unit, but improvement is the key to this equation. Think back to 2015, the Swiss cheese unit was ridiculed for the yards surrendered, but by the end of the regular season the defense was a big part of their playoff push leading to the AFC Divisional round game against the Denver Broncos.
The 2016 season seems to be following suit, and the much maligned defense is starting to find it’s way.
Again, we aren’t talking about world beaters on the defensive side of the football, but, when healthy, they are becoming more than competent enough to win football games for the black and gold. Changes have been made since the start of the season, and the biggest change has been at the cornerback position.
The season started with William Gay and Ross Cockrell on the outside, with Sean Davis playing the first cornerback role coming off the bench in nickel and dime packages. Since then Gay has been relocated to the slot, and first round pick Artie Burns has been named the full-time starter.
Fans have grown accustomed to the starters coming on and off the field in certain situations, but in Burns’ situation, his trial by fire started in Week 9 against the Baltimore Ravens.
In that game, Burns played every defensive snap (70) along with Cockrell, and Gay (38) and Sean Davis (27) rounded out the cornerbacks in Week 9.
How Burns played in his first game as a full-time starter depends on who you talk to. Some have belittled the rookie suggesting his overall play is simply indicative of a player drafted much higher than they should have, but others feel Burns is making strides and has all the physical tools of an elite cornerback in the NFL.
Whichever side you personally fall on, Burns is slowly getting acclimated to the NFL game, and is gaining valuable experience which will benefit not just him, but the defense, in the second half of the season.
To see the full list of snap counts, check the chart below, provided by Pro-Football Reference.