Steelers' Cameron Sutton gets 2nd shot against Patriots
It was a year ago almost to the day cornerback Cameron Sutton made his first NFL start. And it came against Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots.
Three-hundred sixty-four days and just one pro start later, Sutton again is the most significant part of a Pittsburgh Steelers weekly defensive gameplan as he has been all year. Again, it’s Week 15, again it’s at Heinz Field, again it’s a big game.
And, yes, again it’s against five-time Super Bowl champion Brady and the Patriots.
“One thing you know about him,” veteran teammate Joe Haden said, “he’s not afraid. Not of the opponent, not of anything.
“He’s going to be up there in people’s faces, getting hands on receivers and being very combative, just trying to disrupt. That’s all you can ask for — not being afraid and being confident when you’re in man-to-man coverage.”
Going on almost two decades, the Steelers have tried just about everything to slow down Brady. On Sunday, their defensive plan is to get physical with the New England receivers.
“Getting hands on guys,” Haden said, “is what (Steelers coaches) want this game.”
Sorry, Mike Hilton and Coty Sensabaugh, you’re apparently just not nasty enough in the eyes of Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and Tom Bradley.
Enter Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton.
For Burns, it’s a return to the starting lineup after a two-month exile.
For Sutton, it’s another potential coming-out party for the 2017 third-round pick. Last year, after spending more than half the season on injured reserve and two games of sharing time with Sensabaugh at left cornerback in place of an injured Haden, Sutton wrested the full-time gig away from Sensabaugh at a most inopportune time: when the passing game of future season MVP Brady came to town.
“And he did a really, really good job,” Haden said.
Sutton played all but two of the Steelers’ 59 defensive snaps and was targeted just three times, according to Pro Football Focus. Though he did allow a 4-yard touchdown to Brandin Cooks, Sutton allowed just three catches and 17 receiving yards all game long.
“I just remember the electric atmosphere,” Sutton said of the third NFL regular-season game he played in.
“Obviously, now, another opportunity this Sunday at home, same team.”
This time, Sutton won’t be playing just because of injury, nor will he be playing the same position he did the last time the Steelers faced the Patriots. Sutton was the apparent choice of the Steelers defensive staff over two-year starting slot cornerback Hilton.
Other than last year’s New England game, Sutton’s only other start was in Week 4 of this season against Baltimore. That was in the slot, but it was because Hilton was injured.
It has been part of a sophomore NFL season for Sutton in which he has played hybrid dime linebacker, slot corner and outside cornerback (the latter mostly in Weeks 1-2 when Haden was injured).
Does that make Sutton a versatile jack-of-all-trades or simply a young player who has mastered none?
“Kind of just got to take it for what it is and find the balance in all of it and just work to try to perfect that craft of each of those positions,” Sutton said. “Obviously, it’s a tough thing to do when you’re bouncing back and forth, but… I like it.”
The main challenge is Brady, who has a 30-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 11 wins in 13 games against the Steelers.
Not that Sutton figures to back down.
“He’s a really confident guy,” receiver Antonio Brown said. “I’m excited to see him get the opportunity.”
Added Haden: “It’s a compliment because (coaches) are confident in him, obviously, because he’s been showing he can do it. … I’m super glad he’s getting a chance to go out there – and I think Cam will step up.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.