For the past four years, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd was faced with the twice-a-year challenge of going up against Mike Hilton, who was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ slot defender. Now he has to do that several times a week—but in practice, not in games.
Hilton signed with the Bengals as a free agent, and will be playing his former team for the first time in Week 3. Boyd, who is a Pittsburgh native drafted by the Bengals, talked about what it’s meant for Cincinnati to get him there, and away from the Steelers.
“It’s huge. That was their key to [defending] me and what I do in the offense”, Boyd told reporters yesterday. “He’s a rangy guy, even though he’s small. He can disguise real well. He’s got good ball skills. He does everything right. With that being said, he was their leading turnover maker last year, and they lost that. That’s huge on their behalf. So getting him kind of reverses that, because now we’ve got a solid player who can blitz and get turnovers and get him disguised and get the ball back”.
Hilton totaled five takeaways last season, despite missing four games. He notched a career-high three interceptions, and he also recovered two fumbles for the defense, forcing one fumble as well, in addition to recording three sacks and eight tackles for loss.
“The one thing about him, it’s a little different. He’s not like a matchup guy with the slot player. He just knows how to play his leverage”, Boyd said. “He does a real great job of utilizing his keys in beating my leverage and taking away the things that he knows I want to do. That’s the difference between him and all the rest of the nickels”.
As for Hilton, he’ll be in familiar territory as well, as he’s spent the past four seasons working against wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot during practices. And he frankly thinks he’ll have an easier time on Sunday than he will during the week of practice going against Boyd.
“Just going up against him for the last couple of years, it’s easy to see why he’s one of, if not the best, slot receivers in the game”, he said. “He does a lot for the offense. He makes the quarterback’s job easy. And now being on this side, being a teammate with him, I’m excited to see him go play every week, and I know what he’s capable of”.
Every team in the AFC North enters week three with a 1-1 record, this being the first interdivisional opportunity to beat up on one another. The Bengals have only won six games in the past two seasons, while the Steelers won 12 last year, but the two sides don’t appear to be that far apart anymore.