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Rookie cornerback, Steelers offensive game plan draw criticism

Jon Ledyard breaks down tape of the Steelers' loss to the Ravens.

In a game in which very few players stood out in a positive way for either team, Artie Burns' failures in coverage were particularly notable. The Steelers cornerback gave up 4 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown on 12 targets (according to Pro Football Focus), getting dusted on a slant route by Mike Wallace for a 95-yard score early in the game. The afternoon could have actually been worse for Burns, as he was beat on a slot-fade by Breshad Perriman for a would-be touchdown if not for a terrible overthrow by Joe Flacco.

The Ravens kept going after Burns and got a pass interference call when he held Perriman out of his break on a hitch route in front of the official. On the next play, Perriman ran a deep comeback and Burns’ reaction time to Flacco’s release was poor, despite looking at the quarterback the entire way in his zone drop. The corner’s feet are clunky too, taking several steps to gather himself, transfer his weight and drive back to the ball. Understanding his limitation, Burns tried to play flat-footed against Perriman on the next play, but instead gave up massive separation on a slant route by the receiver. From a footwork, hand technique and route diagnosis standpoint, Burns simply isn’t ready to be a starting cornerback in the NFL, yet the Steelers seem intent on increasing his playing time despite the his struggles. Head-scratching to say the least.

- As poorly as Pittsburgh played, and it was one of the worst offensive performances by an NFL team I’ve ever seen, they were largely undone by two plays. The first was Wallace’s 95-yard touchdown and the second was the blocked punt with just under 14 minutes remaining, one of a plethora of failures by Danny Smith’s unit on the day. A defensive 12-men-on-the-field penalty was the second biggest miscue of the day, coming on Justin Tucker’s 54-yard field goal attempt right before halftime. The five-yard penalty moved the kick into chip shot range for the bionic leg of Tucker, putting the Ravens up 10-0 at the half. Combine those two plays with Sammie Coates’ dropped touchdown, and you get a Baltimore victory.

- The one encouraging sign for Steelers fans was Pittsburgh’s dominance against the Ravens’ recently resurgent run game, as a fine performance by Ryan ShazierStephon Tuitt and James Harrison helped hold Baltimore to 50 yards rushing on 29 carries (1.7 ypc). Shazier looks all the way back after taking the bye week to recover, which is huge for the Steelers defense given his playmaking ability. The former first-round pick shot a gap for a big hit on Terrance West two yards behind the line of scrimmage, popping the ball loose near the Ravens goal line. Kamar Aiken recovered for Baltimore, but on a defense in need of players who can change a game on a single play, Shazier’s return represents a much-needed boost.

- While Ben Roethlisberger and the offensive line played poorly, Todd Haley’s game plan deserves criticism as well. It seems like abandoning the run early against Miami has left a lasting mark on the Steelers offensive coordinator, perhaps to an extreme extent. Haley was determined to pound the ball on the ground at the strength of the Ravens defense, even when the results were clearly not working.

A couple of playcalls were incredibly bizarre. A run on 3rd-and-9 on the first drive of the game? Another with 1:43 left in the game and the Steelers threatening to cut the Ravens lead to 7? With no timeouts to stop the clock, almost 40 seconds ran off the clock before the Steelers' next play, leaving them virtually no shot at driving for a tying touchdown even if they managed to make it 21-14, which they did two plays later. The lack of play-action passes is dooming the Steelers offense too, as they currently rank last in the NFL in that department, per Pro Football Focus.

Haley is a great offensive coordinator, but his flaws are being too cute at times and overadjusting to past errors. Abandoned the run game too early in a tight game against Miami? We’ll continue to pound the ball at one of the best run defenses in the league the next time. You’ve got to be more multi-dimensional than that, and if your quarterback isn’t capable of it, you need to turn to your backup. Watching Roethlisberger on Sunday, even Landry Jones couldn’t have been much worse.

Antonio Brown is right about other players needing to step up with the ridiculous amount of attention he is getting from opposing teams, but much of the blame needs to be on Roethlisberger’s shoulders as well. Several times on Sunday the Steelers quarterback had open receivers and simply got tunnel vision for Brown or his first read, something that seems to be a habit for Roethlisberger in his first game back from injury. Certainly the Steelers receivers need to cut down on their mistakes (Coates, Markus Wheaton) and show greater maturity (Eli Rogers), but when Roethlisberger is on his game, those issues seem to diminish significantly.

- Harrison came out and took it to Ravens rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley on Sunday, one of the lone harbingers of joy for Steelers fans. The veteran outside linebacker notched two sacks and drew several called and uncalled holds, consistently pressuring the pocket and making Flacco uncomfortable. The Steelers pass rush is still largely anemic, but potentially getting Bud Dupree back in action soon could result in a few more 1v1 victories against opposing blockers on passing plays.


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