After getting manhandled by the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, the Pittsburgh Steelers are making some changes to their defense.
Pittsburgh plans to utilize more man coverage this season, cornerback Artie Burns told reporters Wednesday, moving away from the zone scheme that Tom Brady and the Patriots so easily exploited in January.
“Every team that’s won Super Bowls the last couple of years has been able to play man,” Burns said, via ESPN.com. “We want to be a team to play man, get the pressure on the quarterback and attack coverage downfield.”
The Steelers allowed just 30 total points in the 2016 wild-card and divisional rounds but were torched for 36 at Gillette Stadium in the AFC title game. Brady completed 32 of 42 passes for a Patriots playoff-record 384 yards and three touchdowns in the 36-17 victory, and wide receiver Chris Hogan caught nine balls for 180 yards (another franchise record) and two scores.
“We had a good game plan going in there, and they played zone,” Hogan said after the game. “And after that, after we kind of knew what they were doing, we just … (offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) was calling good plays, and Tom was able to find the open guys.”
The Steelers made moves to bolster their secondary this offseason, drafting cornerbacks Cam Sutton and Brian Allen and adding corner Coty Sensabaugh and safety Daimion Stafford in free agency. Burns, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2016, should take a step forward in Year 2.
Pittsburgh should be better equipped to play more man coverage this season, as Burns and Sutton both were press corners in college. They’ll need to if they hope to slow down the Patriots, who added Brandin Cooks to their already-explosive receiving corps.
“It’s always some opening in a zone defense,” Burns said. “It’s someone who missed a drop, or it’s always some loop in a zone defense. To be able to play man, to get a guy right in someone’s chest with the pressure, it affects the quarterback a little bit.”
Thumbnail photo via James Lang/USA TODAY Sports Images