The Pittsburgh Steelers have a secret weapon on defense, and his name is Mike Hilton. The slot cornerback has been called a “small linebacker” multiple times by head coach Mike Tomlin, and the team uses him in a variety of ways.
He can blitz off the edge, play the run and blanket running backs and tight ends in coverage. Truly a Swiss Army Knife for the Steelers defense.
This isn’t to suggest Hilton doesn’t have imperfections, he certainly does. His size has been a detriment in coverage, and there have been occasions where the opposition has schemed a way to get Hilton away from the line of scrimmage, where Hilton excels, to exploit the former Ole Miss defensive back.
Hilton has missed the last four games due to a shoulder injury he suffered in the Steelers’ Week 6 win over the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. Although returning to practice every week the last three weeks, Hilton’s shoulder just hasn’t been healthy enough for him to return to play.
Until this week.
The versatile cornerback practiced fully all week heading into Week 11, and is slated to make his triumphant return to the lineup when the Steelers travel to Duval county to play the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler knows what kind of difference having Hilton in the lineup can mean to the Steelers’ run defense, and beyond.
“They are going to have to deal with [Mike Hilton] because of the things that he has done in the past, he comes off the edge every now and then. They have to deal with that, a lot of people don’t.” Butler said.
“Last week, I think we played the run better. We had a couple that popped on us. We got a 40-yarder on the fake punt, and we have to go make sure those couple pop on us every game. We have to be where we are supposed to be and we weren’t in that game. We have to get better at that. I think we will get better at that and remain aggressive as we did, as we have done throughout the year, and continue to not only play the run better, but we have to play the play action better.
“They go play-action pass, we have to make sure that quarterback has a certain amount of time. He knows it, and maybe the ball will come out a little bit quicker. Maybe it comes out when it’s not on time or where they would like to have it.
“We have to make sure we are solid in the running game and get him in the passing situations and then get after the quarterback. That’s probably the thing we do best is lead the League in sacks and stuff like that, but we have to get them to those situations. You’re right in terms of stopping the run. We have to be better at that and become better at that. This guy right here that we are fixing to face is a good running back, a very good running back, one of the better parts of their offense. We have to do our best to make sure we keep them from hurting us.”
Not having Hilton in the lineup has had a ripple effect for the Steelers. Yes, they’ve been without one of the league’s top slot cornerbacks, but if there was a silver lining to their cloud it was how they were able to get others experience during his absence. However, it shouldn’t underscore the importance of players like Hilton, and Tyson Alualu, to the Steelers defense.
“That’s going to help us, yes, down the line. That’s for sure.” Butler said regarding the team seeing others step up in place of Hilton. “Two young guys that we need them to come along, sometimes the only way for them to come along is for them to get out there and play.
“We were fortunate enough to win some games when we had some injuries and we lost a couple of people here and there. Tyson [Alualu] and Mike [Hilton], those guys we need them back. We’re not sure about Worm [Chris Wormley] if they aren’t going to make it back right now. We definitely need Tyson. He makes a big difference for us and so does Mike. Mike is going to make a big difference for us because he does such a good job. He has a real good feel for blitzing. He has a real good feel for where he should be in the defense in terms of knowing what he should be doing and knowing what everybody else should be doing around him, and that is a lot to be said for that because if you know where your help is then you know where you can cheat a little bit and take your coverage where you need to take it. It’s going to help us, Mike coming back, quite a bit. They are going to have to be aware of him a little bit. It will open up some other things for us, I think.”
The Steelers are a pretty healthy football team, all things considered, heading into their Week 11 game. It has been a while since they have had their complete complement of players available to them. This is great news for the Steelers, and bad news for the Jaguars.
Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the Jaguars this Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET.