Although he might have missed a tackle at the tail end of DeAnthony Thomas’ 57-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter off a blown coverage by Artie Burns, first-year slot cornerback Mike Hilton has continued to make plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers, performing in ways that show no limits based on his diminutive size.
He had, for example, two big tackles in the game for losses, showing on those two plays a combination of desirable traits: the instinctiveness and knowledge to sniff out the plays, the acuity to process them, and the athletic ability and power to turn recognition into action, making the plays—a see-to-do.
Early in the second quarter, Hilton pretty much single-handedly sabotaged one of the Chiefs’ early possessions in the game after he read a pitch to Tyreek Hill, lined up in the sidecar, chasing him out of the backfield and wrestling down for a huge loss of nine yards on second and five. They predictably punted two plays later on fourth and 15.
At the end of the first half, he also helped to delay the satisfaction of the Chiefs getting their first first down of the game. After the two-minute warning, on a second and 10, Alex Smith threw a dump-off pass to Chardandrick West. Hilton and Mike Mitchell stuffed the big back after a nine-yard gain, though they would go on to convert on third and one.
Late in the third quarter, the Ole Miss product once again sniffed out the play before it happened, this one a screen pass going to tight end Travis Kelce. In spite of the efforts of another player trying to block him, the 5’9” cornerback was able to blow up the play and bring down the big tight end behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of two yards.
But he had to do some cleaning up on the next play after Vince Williams got run over by Kareem Hunt on a checkdown pass, receiving a stiff-arm that allowed the Chiefs to pick up the first down. He and Sean Davis combined for the tackle 12 yards later.
But arguably his biggest play came still later in the game, with just over two and a half minutes to play. with Kansas City set up with second and 10 at the Steelers’ 15-yard line, Smith had a wide open receiver in the end zone, but Hilton blitz and pressure the quarterback, forcing him to throw high and miss his target for what would have been a sure touchdown.
The man is simply a player who does not play with a limited mindset. It doesn’t matter how tall or heavy he is. He is still going to play aggressively, and physically, and with power. His instincts allow him a leg up to make plays in all phases of the defense, against the run, on screens, and in coverage, as well as on the blitz. It’s hard to have many complaints about what Hilton has shown in his first season.