You will read a lot about Joe Haden and TJ Watt this week after the team’s superb performance on defense. Both players had excellent games against the potent Atlanta Falcons offense. The most important player on the entire defense however, is corner back Mike Hilton. He did not register a sack, interception, or even a pass defended, but his influence on the game was massive.
The most obvious thing Mike Hilton brought to the table on Sunday was his blitzing off the edge. Hilton was consistently in the backfield harassing Matt Ryan, forcing several hurried throws by the Falcons quarterback. His knack for getting pressure every time he rushes is bordering on the unbelievable. Hilton is the best blitzing defensive back the Steelers have had since Troy Polamalu. It represents a real weapon for Keith Butler and the way he calls a game.
The other part of Hilton’s game of course is his ability to blanket slot receivers. We all saw the highlights of Calvin Ridley torching the Bengals for two touchdowns the previous week. Ridley had no such success against Hilton, producing only four catches for 38 yards on the day. In fact, the Steelers may have stumbled on a formula on how to finally defend talented offenses. Let Joe Haden follow the opposing team’s best receiver, while Mike Hilton shuts down the slot receiver. Give the Artie Burns/Coty Sensabaugh tandem the worst wideout and hope for the best. If this team could ever figure out how to get the safeties to play consistently, they have the makings of a very good secondary.
Any path to success for this defensive backfield has to include a healthy Mike Hilton. Look no further than the Ravens game to see how much he means to this group. After giving up some big plays, Keith Butler went into a shell playing safe the rest of the game. Butler had zero confidence this team could cover without Hilton in the game. Cam Sutton is nowhere close to being competent enough to fill in at that position. Joe Flacco took full advantage of the soft zones the Steelers used, and the results were predictable. There maybe no single player more irreplaceable than Mike Hilton on defense. Without him the Steelers lose both arguably their best cover man, and one of their best blitz options. He may do it in a more low key way than some other members of the defense, but it’s clear Mike Hilton is the MVP of this team on that side of the ball.