As we will do every Saturday to get you ready for the week’s game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. What will make or break the Pittsburgh Steelers as they square off against the Indianapolis Colts.
X Factor: Mike Hilton
Mentioned this one the other day. There aren’t a lot of way the Colts will be able to beat the Steelers. Perhaps their best shot at it is creating some big plays for a lackluster offense. In charge of doing that is TY Hilton, averaging an absurd 20 yards per catch and one of the NFL’s most explosive receivers.
Normally, with a cornerback tandem of Artie Burns and Joe Haden, it wouldn’t be a severe problem. The Steelers have shut down top receivers already. But Hilton is different. The Colts play him in the slot as much as anyone does their #1 receiver. And we know the Steelers aren’t a team that will travel their cornerbacks. Meaning, Mike Hilton will be seeing a lot of TY Sunday afternoon.
Mike Hilton has had a great season. What a find he’s been. But he hasn’t faced a receiver like this and hasn’t been tested vertically very often – this will be his truest test, maybe of the entire year.
Sure, the Steelers could try to offer safety help but that’s a lot tougher to do in the slot than an outside receiver. You can’t just play “over the top.” The whole route tree is open in the slot and when the Steelers want to play with two high safeties, something they often do on passing downs, that help simply isn’t going to be there.
Defenses are unable to just leverage the slot receiver away. You just have to embrace and defend him. And that’ll be a challenge.
No receiver has been targeted more on third down this season than TY Hilton. And the slot is where most teams look in those situations. Pittsburgh will have their hands full. If Mike Hilton can continue his strong season, the Steelers are sitting pretty. If he can’t, the Colts will have a puncher’s chance.