For most cornerbacks, it’s what they do in coverage that catches the coaching staff’s eye. Mike Hilton is not like most corners. Physically, he is the smallest guy on the field. But when he laces up his cleats, he’s one of the most physical. That makes him an effective tackler. And blitzer.
It’s a topic Keith Butler was asked about during yesterday’s weekly media scrum. Butler said for Hilton, blitzing from his slot spot is all about feel and intuition.
“It’s a feel,” Butler told reporters. “Feel of when the ball is going to be snapped. It’s a feel of body language by their whole offense. In terms of when they’re set, when they’re not, when they’re moving around, when they’re looking around, all that stuff. You get a feel for that. He’s got a good feel for the blitz in terms of the timing and hitting it on the snap.”
Blitz Hilton has. Butler unleashed him last week against Baltimore, sending him on 14 blitzes. On one sequence, he blitzed three times in a row.
In total, Hilton was used in coverage 24 times and blitzed 14. I’m guessing he’s pretty much alone in a cornerback doing that. But he was used so often because he was successful, registering four pressures and notching his first career sack. That sack, by the way, was a big one and a prime example of the coaching staff raving mad about rush and coverage.
On the sack, which came on sudden change after the Steelers turned the ball over, Joe Flacco had a wide open Jeremy Maclin. You’ll see him toward the bottom of the picture.
“He understands what offenses do. And what they try to do in their movement. Talking and moving around. Them just getting into their stances and stuff like that, doesn’t tell you a lot. Tells you a little bit. But when they start looking around and listening to the cadence of the quarterback, cause they gotta do the same thing, then you get a pretty good idea of when the ball is going to be snapped.”
Butler didn’t go into specifics of what some of those tells are but film study will change those keys each week. It could be something like how long it takes the ball to be snapped after the QB lifts his leg, if they go quick in their no-huddle, or even something like if the QB has a pattern of how he looks at the defense. A lot of quarterbacks do, for example, looking left-right-left before snapping the football.
Though Butler didn’t touch on it, you have to think Hilton’s versatility and football background gives him an unusual advantage to figure things out. Hilton played every position in the secondary at Ole Miss, a lowly recruited prospect who had to fight for snaps and put his hand in the pile whenever his named was called upon. Though he’s become a permanent slot corner for the Steelers, those traits and tells have carried over, making him not just a slot corner, but a slot blitzer.
And a good one at that.