Best game of season for Steelers secondary coincides with Morgan Burnett’s return

November 18, 2018

Veteran Morgan Burnett was signed to a $14 million contract be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting safety. In his return to the defense after a five-week absence, Burnett instead played a subpackage role.

It was just what the Steelers’ secondary needed.

“He’s very, very helpful on the defensive side,” cornerback Joe Haden said of Burnett.

“He just can play literally every position out there - nickel, dime, safety, (hybrid linebacker).”

After missing the past four games because of a groin injury, Burnett came back - and so did the Steelers’ passing defense. It limited the Cleveland Browns to 163 yards during a 33-18 Steelers’ victory on Sunday.

“I think it’s just a credit to the whole team,” Burnett said after he played mostly in the “quarters” package as an in-the-box hybrid against the Browns. “I felt like guys were locked in all week, I feel like each week we are growing as a team.”

Burnett - for now - ceded the starting strong safety spot to rookie first-round pick Terrell Edmunds. But the plan all along was for the Steelers to flood the field with versatile safeties who could stop the run as well as they could cover tight ends and even slot receivers, as adjustment to the loss of rangy linebacker Ryan Shazier.

Burnett’s absence mothballed the much-ballyhooed “dollar” (seven defensive backs) package - it was back for a few snaps Sunday. Mostly, though, the Steelers turned to the “quarters” personnel grouping of outside cornerbacks Haden and Coty Sensabaugh (replaced by Cameron Sutton after a second-half injury), slot Mike Hilton and starting safeties Edmunds and Sean Davis in addition to Burnett.

Also in the package: L.J. Fort at linebacker in lieu of base-package ’backers Vince Williams and Jon Bostic.

“We had healthy bodies, people up,” Haden said. “Morgan definitely helped us, being so versatile - playing nickel, dime, safety, whatever. With him... coaches can run those (exotic) personnel groups as much as we want.”

For his part, Burnett was more happy just to be back on the field than to concern himself with losing reps to Edmunds. A nine-year veteran, Burnett started all 102 of the games he played with the team that drafted him, the Green Bay Packers.

“I’m good with whatever is gonna help this team win,” Burnett said.

“I’m a team player and I feel like everyone has an important role and an important job on this team, and whatever is asked from me each week I am going to try my best to do it to the best of my ability and be accountable as a teammate. I feel accountability is the most important thing in this game.”

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