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 during Monday Night’s matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
X Factor: Mike Hilton
Last week, my X Factor was Artie Burns. He struggled, though far from the only one, and the Steelers got torched by Patrick Mahomes. This week’s quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs’ offense, are going to pose a similar threat. So feel free to choose pretty much anyone in the secondary and you’re bound to land on someone really, really important.
But I chose Hilton for a specific reason. Primarily because of all the matchups he could face in the slot. Tampa Bay moves everyone around. You’ll get Mike Evans, Desean Jackson, O.J. Howard lined up inside. That’s part of what makes their offense effective. They’re awfully good at exploiting matchups.
With Keith Butler simplifying the scheme to what I assume is one of those “what sound does this animal make?” kids toys (the strong safety says…man coverage) I’m certainly not expecting the defense to travel or match up on certain receivers, not that they really do that in the first place. So that means Hilton is likely to see whoever lines up in the slot. That means there will be points where he faces Evans and Howard, who have the size advantage, or Jackson, who is much faster. And you better believe Tampa will go after him, especially assuming Joe Haden’s return.
Hilton has had a really strong, short career with the Steelers and I’ve always been impressed by his play. His competitiveness and ability to contest the catch point, his fearlessness, and you know full well about his ability to blitz. But Monday will serve as a huge test and I think they’re going to pepper him with targets and challenge him with every route concept in the book. I also expect the Steelers to go back to their Week One gameplan and play a lot more man coverage than the zone-heavy scheme they ran last week, in part, due to the loss of Haden.
Remember, these “X Factors” aren’t predictions of what players will play well or not. They’re neutral based. It’s just a focus on one player who needs to play well in order for that side of the ball to have success and increase the Steelers’ chances of winning. And finally getting back on track.