2017 South Side Questions: Biggest Surprise Of First Half?

The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.

We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: What was the biggest (pleasant) surprise for the Steelers during the first half of the season?

Since we are still transitioning back into actual football mode from the bye week, I figured it would be appropriate to throw out a retrospective question like this.

Now that we’ve played half of the games, what has been the most pleasant surprise of the season so far for the Steelers? It could be an individual player’s performance, although it doesn’t have to be. It could be a circumstantial performance, or anything really, provided that it pertains to football.

I’m going to guess that a popular pick will be the performance of cornerback Joe Haden, who has been the best player in the secondary so far—arguably, at least, as one could make a pretty solidly convincing case for Mike Hilton out of the slot.

Speaking of Hilton, now that I’ve reminded you, perhaps you’d like to change your answer. Hilton locking down the nickel back position was far from a guarantee, but he has been one of the steadiest players for the Steelers on either side of the ball, and has contributed in all phases of the game.

While the pass rush hasn’t been consistent from game to game, it has been productive despite being one of the least-frequent blitzers in the league, as attested to by the fact that they are on pace for over 50 sacks on the year. Coverage has been, for the most part, above the line as well.

Chris Hubbard? How about the job that he has done? He has started most of the season and played in the equivalent of six games, and yet the Steelers have allowed the second-fewest sacks in the league, and he hasn’t been a liability.

Third-down defense is a big one that I think has been overlooked a little too much so far. They’ve been one of the best teams in the league in getting off the field. It might just not seem like it as much because the offense has been terrible converting them on the flip side.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • will

    Hilton………most during training camp discounted him. And Coach Butts calls the blitzes.

  • Daniel Santo

    Im going to say Alualu. I thought for sure he was another Cam Thomas, but he has been playing great for Tuitt

  • capehouse

    Joe Haden was a Pro Bowler, Hubbard was solid last year, Alualu was a former 1st rd pick, and Hilton was talked up all offseason, although I’m a bit surprised he locked down the position as much as he has, but the biggest surprise for me is JuJu because I’d thought the WR room was crowded enough to make him a game day inactive for at least the 1st half of the season, but he’s been an integral piece of the offense with so many disappointing targets like Bryant and Rogers, even Ayers leaving, plus the TEs. JuJu is now basically the #2 WR, and plays in more formations than Bryant does because of his skillset. Huge surprise to me that he’s having this much success.

  • CP72

    It’s got to be Hilton. What a find by Kevin Colbert and his group.

    Who would have thought that half way through the season you could make the arguement that Artie Burns is the weakest link in the chain in the secondary (and he’s been pretty good).

  • dany

    I thought people were nuts for talking highly of an end of the roster player like him. I wasn’t convinced till he actually played in the opener

  • Scunge

    Hilton sort of shows Belichick is human and does make mistakes. How do you not keep this guy around?

  • NinjaMountie

    I’ll be different. I’m going with Watt. While I was happy with the pick and expected him to do well throughout his career, I’m greatly surprised with how well he’s doing so early. Also, add in the fact that you worry lately about any pick the Steelers make at OLB and CB and you have another reason.
    So, biggest surprise, Steelers got it right at OLB finally. lol

  • NinjaMountie

    That’s a good one. I never thought he’d be inactive because I figured him for a lot of slot duties but he has definitely outperformed any expectation I had for him this year.

  • hdogg48

    Hilton….followed by Bryant getting benched
    for being a dick.

  • capehouse

    I just thought Rogers’ consistency and catch percentage in the slot was too much to dethrone him right away, plus JuJu had those preseason injuries.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    My most pleasant surprise has been JuJu Smith-Schuster. I actually predicted that the Steelers would draft a wide receiver in the 2nd round but back in April I stated, “Everyone expecting an edge rusher to follow; but the Steelers trick us by going with Penn State wide receiver Chris Godwin.”

    I did expect him to make the 53 man roster once he was drafted so high but thought he would be a # 4 or 5 receiver vying with Sammie Coates for a spot.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    He was too nice a guy for that team.

  • Darth Blount 47

    My most pleasant surprise has been the lack of a major – – j – – – (Remember, I’m not superstitious but I am a little-stitious). With teams around the league, some of them appearing to be clear SB contenders, losing players of significance, we have been more than a little fortunate. It’s almost as if… we have somebody up there who really loves us and is looking out for us. May that little shamrock continue to work its magic till February.

  • WreckIess

    Probably Hilton, but it’s more that they actually started him. Back during OTAs and Minicamp there were reports on how well he had been doing and how he was taking almost all of the first team reps at slot over Golson while Gay sat out so I believed in his talent, but I don’t think anyone was thinking he’d be the day one starter at that point.

  • steelburg

    The biggest surprise has to be Hilton IMO. Count me as one who thought this guy was being over hyped. I just wasn’t going to buy in easily especially after we talked up Blake in the past in a similar fashion. But if I had to make a list I would say Hilton, Hubbard, Haden, and Juju. Hubbard is feeling like a must resign due to his ability to play anywhere on the line.

  • Chad Weiss

    Hilton is a guy who came from nowhere to being a great player so far.. I was on hype train but didn’t really expect him to start alone being as good as he has been

  • treeher

    I can’t quite determine if it is a disappointment or a surprise, but for me it is Ben’s overall performance. I know, it’s not all his fault, but actually most of it is.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    I said week 6. Same with sutton.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    Hilton easy.

  • LifeUhhFindsAWay

    I agree with all of the positive surprises, JuJu, Haden, Alualu, Watt, etc. One negative surprise for me is Bud Dupree. I really thought this would be huge year for him. At this point it seems Watt is already ahead of him in terms of skill, instincts, and preparation. He’s still a solid player, and an elite athlete, but I don’t think he will ever be a pass rushing ‘technician’ like a James Harrison or Joey Porter.

  • AndyR34

    Good comment on Old Mother Hubbard. He seems to be like Hoke was once on defense…plug him in and forget him.

  • AndyR34

    You are answering tomorrow’s question…lol

  • Cwallace

    Now aint nobody trumping your surprise..and I’m very happy for it but superstitious so fingers crossed til feb. Good comment.

  • ThatGuy

    Hilton, JuJu, and Ben’s rapid decline.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Hilton Hotels and it’s not even close.

  • Stairway7

    “Now that we’ve played half of the games, what has been the most pleasant surprise of the season so far for the Steelers?” So your perception that Ben is in rapid decline is a pleasant surprise for you? Are yo a Ravens fan?

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Has to be Hilton. Haden at least had a history as a good player and Hubbard has Munchak as a coach. With him as coach I just expect all of our linemen to at least be solid starters. Hilton has come out of basically nowhere and you could make the case for him being our best player in the secondary.

  • ThatGuy

    I only read the title. I only read full articles from Kozora lol.

    Also, other people mentioned negative stuff but you come at me?? Ok keyboard warrior good for you.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Biggest surprise from a positive standpoint has been the number of sacks this defense has gotten in the first half of the year after struggling recently there. That’s been big.

  • Taylor Williams

    No one will ever be a Cam Thomas. That guy skates around and falls everywhere.

  • Taylor Williams

    They were discounting him because their obsession with golson

  • Matthew Marczi

    If you don’t bother reading my articles, I’d rather you not comment on them, to be blunt.

  • will

    Very true

  • ThatGuy

    Lmao K.