For Steelers’ Artie Burns, it’s a good time for bye
The bye week is a time for players dealing with physical injuries to get a few days of rest and heal for the rest of the NFL season.
It also applies to players dealing with wounds of a mental nature.
“The break is good for everybody,” Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden said. “It’s good to get away from it for a second.”
Make that many seconds for Haden’s partner at cornerback, Artie Burns. There might not be enough time in those days off for Burns to wash away the troubles he has experienced through the first six weeks of the season.
First, Burns lost his job as a full-time starter and was put into a rotation with Coty Sensabaugh starting in Week 3 at Tampa Bay. Then, Burns was benched Sunday after being penalized for pass interference late in the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I think Artie has to play more consistent,” said Tom Bradley, who is in his first year as defensive backs coach. “He knows that. A lot of times you have to make sure you concentrate on every play and try to get all the things right: just all the little things, and we will get that together this week.”
Bradley admitted Burns’ problems are mental as well as technical.
“It’s always a little bit of both as you get out there,” Bradley said. “Playing corner is a little different. Confidence has a shelf life that needs to be replenished. But he’ll be fine.”
That remains to be seen. Burns is at a crossroads in his NFL career. As a first-round draft pick, Burns has a lucrative fifth-year contract option that can be exercised by the Steelers after this season. How Burns plays in the final 10 weeks of the season will go a long way in determining whether the Steelers pick up the additional season.
Burns’ frustration was evident when reporters approached his locker Tuesday. He sat in a chair and barely looked up while giving jagged answers to questions.
Q: How’s your confidence level?
Q: Does the bye come at a good time?
“Yeah, that’s great.”
Q: Were you upset by the benching?
“No, it’s their decision.”
Q: Was it a proper one?
“It’s their decision.”
For his part, Haden has been trying to boost Burns’ confidence in recent weeks. Burns went from playing every snap early in the season to sitting every two series in favor of Sensabaugh to his fourth-quarter benching against the Bengals.
“I try to keep his head up, let him know that we’re here for him for whatever he needs,” Haden said. “From me, studying-wise, tape-wise, I’m here. I let him know, ‘Artie, you’re nice, you got the ability to be a shutdown corner.’ ”
Burns, though, isn’t playing like a shutdown corner. Anticipating a post route in the second quarter Sunday when he lined up deep in front of Tyler Boyd, Burns froze as the Bengals receiver broke for the sideline. The result was a 14-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left in the half that tied the score 14-14.
In the fourth quarter, with the Bengals trailing by six points, Burns was called for pass interference on a throw intended for Alex Erickson. The 14-yard infraction gave the Bengals a first down at the 50, and they scored the go-ahead touchdowns six plays later.
Burns wasn’t on the field for those six plays or the final two that the Bengals ran after the Steelers went ahead 28-21 with 10 seconds remaining.
“I think it’s a couple things that have happened along the way,” Bradley said. “We had some bad luck in some different situations, but I think we will be able to work it all out. A lot of times I think he gets some things that happen at inopportune times to him.”
Since being put into a rotation, Burns’ playing time has dwindled in recent weeks. He played 68 percent of the defensive snaps against Baltimore, 57 percent against Atlanta and 48 percent against Cincinnati.
It remains to be seen how the workload will be adjusted when the players return Monday from their four-day respite.
“We’ll get him going here,” Bradley said. “I’m not worried about Artie now.”
Neither is Haden.
“He has so much ability, so much talent,” Haden said. “It’s just that the corner position is a tough one. We are out there on an island. You just have to be mentally strong, head strong. … Just have a short-term memory and get back out there and make your plays.
“It’s a tough position to be in, but for Artie, he believes in his ability and he has pretty good ability. Just continue to practice hard, continue to just build up your confidence until it can transfer over into the game.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.