Though he may not have recorded any interceptions or sacks or forced or recovered any turnovers—and I believe he only totaled something like four or five tackles overall—Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens might have been the most impactful of the season for Pittsburgh Steelers second-year cornerback Mike Hilton, who made his plays count.
That included a bit play inside the red zone in the first quarter. The offense was having a hard time preventing the Ravens from moving down the field early on, which included relinquishing a couple of explosive plays, but they were able to bottle things up inside the red zone.
That was thanks in no small part to this great play by the 5’9” Hilton against 6’5” rookie tight end Mark Andrews. Just as the Ravens hit the goal line, Joe Flacco tried to take advantage of that matchup in one-on-one coverage in the shallow left corner of the end zone, but the nickel corner was able to extend and break up the pass on first and 10 from the 10-yard line.
Baltimore was looking to get things started on their next possession after failing to crack the end zone then, but as they began to drive, Hilton set them back with this run blitz that put Alex Collins on the ground for a loss of two yards. They would punt shortly after that.
But perhaps his biggest play came with about five minutes remaining in the first half. Baltimore was really threatening, getting all the way down to the Steelers’ four-yard line, where they faced a third and two. Baltimore put in Lamar Jackson from the shotgun, who took the direct snap. Hilton traveled from the far side of the play to track down the speedy quarterback for a loss, forcing another field goal.
Much of Hilton’s work came against slot receiver Willie Snead, so we saw a lot of routes that looked like the one below. Snead won some and lost some, but this was pretty typical of the targets. Hilton kept the play in front of him and knew when to break toward the play.
You might recall that play early in the game where the Ravens had Jackson open for a touchdown on third and goal but never got the target. They tried to run that play again later, but this time Hilton was all over it, and the pass ended up sailing out of bounds.
Hilton has played above his height since he has been in Pittsburgh and has become one of the team’s most critical defenders. Plays like these show why.