The NFL remains a copycat league.
As the Pittsburgh Steelers look to take the next step on the defensive side of the ball, potentially fielding a unit that can better complement an explosive scoring attack, the success of recent Super Bowl champions seems to be providing a blueprint.
Cornerback Artie Burns explained Wednesday that the Steelers will be looking to shift toward more of a man-heavy approach in pass coverage.
“Every team that’s won Super Bowls the last couple of years has been able to play man,” Burns said, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. “We want to be a team to play man, get the pressure on the quarterback and attack coverage downfield.”
As Fowler points out, the apparent shift in philosophy comes on the heels of an AFC title game appearance in which the Steelers’ defense was picked apart by Tom Brady.
The New England Patriots‘ star quarterback completed 32-of-42 passes in the convincing 36-17 victory, racking up 384 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s always some opening in a zone defense,” Burns said. “It’s someone who missed a drop, or it’s always some group 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.”
Pittsburgh will presumably be hoping that the second-year development of Burns, a 2016 first-round pick, can spearhead that transition. The addition of third-round cornerback Cameron Sutton may also prove to be a significant factor, as could first-round rookie T.J. Watt bolstering the pass-rush group up front.
The Steelers finished the 2016 regular season ranked 16th against the pass, allowing an average of 243 yards per game.
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