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Breaking down Mike Hilton’s blitz success, new wrinkles in the Steelers defense and more

The local stat geek gets extra credit this week for some tremendous work on Mike Hilton, unique defensive packages and even a tip of the cap to James Conner.

Green Bay Packers v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 9-2, and sitting atop both the AFC North and AFC conference standings. When it comes to looking at the key aspects of how the team got where they are, we turn to our local stat geek (58Steel).

Every week, he pours over the film and takes down copious amounts of notes. It is this weekly feature where we highlight some of those notes which often show tendencies, trends and hints to why the Steelers are succeeding, or failing, in specific areas.

In today’s feature, he breaks down Mike Hilton’s blitz percentages, some new wrinkles in the defense and a tip of the cap to James Conner.



Much was said Mike Hilton blitzing vs the Packers. Collinsworth raved about him. We've seen it in other games as well. Wanted to see what the numbers show. Since this encompasses only a handful of plays, I also took a look at a couple other defensive looks/personnel groupings from the Packers game.

Similarly to what I've done with offensive success rates, I broke down the defensive stops here. A defensive stop (DS) occurs on a play where the defense holds the offense to less than

  • 40% of yards needed on 1st down
  • 60% of yards needed on 2nd down
  • 100% of yards needed on 3rd/4th down

Mike Hilton blitzed on 7 plays. 4 came on runs, 3 on passes. The numbers:

4 runs, 2 yards, 0.5 YPC

3 DS, 75%

3 pass att, 2 comp, 66.7%, 27 yards, 9.0 YPA

2 DS, 66.7%, 1 1st down

Total for run and pass:

7 plays, 29 yards, 4.14 YPP

5 DS, 71.4%

Overall, the slot blitz with Mike Hilton was highly successful; only 2 successful plays for the offense. The biggest (and last blitz by Hilton) came on the 1st play of the Packers final drive. Hundley hit Rodgers for 25-yards. Live by the sword, die by the sword, as they say.

Next we'll look at the Steelers "4-3 front." We've discussed this before. As a reminder here's a picture:

The Steelers are in their base 3-4 personnel. But we see that Heyward and Tuitt are aligned on the same side of the center. Heyward is aligned as a 3-tech DT and Tuitt as a 7-tech DE. T.J. Watt is aligned as an off-the-ball LB.

The Steelers tend to use this look vs. "run heavy" personnel from the offense. True to form, the Steelers used this on 5 plays vs the Packers, and all of them were vs. either multiple TE's or multiple RB's. Here are the numbers:

3 runs, 7 yards, 2.33 YPC

2 DS, 66.7%, 1 1st down

2 pass att, 2 comp, 100%, 12 yards, 6.0 YPA

0 DS, 0 %,

Total for run and pass:

5 plays, 19 yards, 3.8 YPP

2 DS, 40%

With so few plays, it's difficult to garner a lot of information. The one run play that was successful for the Packers came on 3rd and 1, gaining 5-yards and a 1st down. Both passes came on 1st down and gained 5 and 7 yards, respectively. On a per play basis, the Steelers "4-3 look" is highly successful (3.8 YPP), while not giving up any chunk plays. Situationally, it "failed" 60% of the time. That's one reason why I provide different ways of breaking down the numbers.

The last package we'll look at is a "new" one, at least this season.

While charting the dime package numbers (I do every week), I noticed a "discrepancy" in the snap counts. Normally, Will Gay's and Vince Williams snap counts add up to the total number of defensive snaps. This is because VW is substituted out for Gay in the dime package. The snap counts for the Packers game show Gay with 16 and VW with 43, for a total of 59, out of 55 defensive snaps. There's an "overlap" of 4 snaps. That means that Gay and VW were on the field together for 4 plays. Barring an injury, how did that happen?

Here's how:

Instead of removing VW, the Steelers removed Stephon Tuitt in the dime package. The Steelers employed a 1-4-6. As you can see, all of the defenders are standing at the LOS. This is obviously an attempt to disguise who is rushing the passer and who is dropping in coverage. Was it successful? We'll look at each play:

Q2, 10:37, 3rd and 7: Steelers rush 3 with VW as a "spy" on Hundley. Pass complete for 2 yards. DS

Q3, 04:57, 3rd and 15: Steelers rush 4 (Sean Davis blitzed), VW as a "spy." Sack by Heyward for 3 yard loss. DS

Q4, 03:35, 2nd and 12: Steelers rush 4 (Sean Davis blitzed), VW as a "spy." Pass incomplete. DS

Q4, 02:50, 4th and 6: Steelers rush 4 (Cam Heyward appeared to rush, then stop and "spy." I'm not sure if that was by design, or Heyward on his own after not getting an initial push). Pass complete for 8-yards, 1st down.

The numbers:

3 pass att, 2 comp, 66.7%, 10 yards, 3.33 YPA, 1 sack for -3 yards. 2.50 YPP

3 DS, 75%

I'd have to say the 1-4-6 was successful overall. Again, a per play average of 2.5 and a DS% of 75% is spectacular. The one time it failed was critical, however.

I'll add one more pic here, just as an extra observation.

James Conner has not received as much playing time as many had hoped. Todd Haley specifically said that Conner needed to improve his pass protection. His one egregious "miss" in that regard came vs. the Jaguars. Conner failed to adequately pick up a blitzing Posluszny, which contributed to Ben's first INT in that game. I began a project, looking at Conner in pass protection. There honestly have been only a handful of opportunities, with not much worth noting. So I scrapped it. However, vs. the Packers, James Conner got in for 1 snap. He was asked to chip on the DE as the RB released into the flat:

Looks like James did alright. Of course, this is different than picking up a blitz. Anyway, this came on AB's 33 yard 4th quarter TD.