Hilton Helping on Third Downs

After embarrassing showing vs Ravens, Steelers converting at high rate

Josh Rowntree
October 31, 2018 - 4:40 pm
Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper (81) is tackled after a catch against Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton (28) during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 41-17.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports


Mike Hilton had to watch from the sideline as, time after time, the Baltimore Ravens picked up key third down conversions at Heinz Field. 

The Ravens won the game, 26-14, in front of a national audience and a grumbling Heinz Field crowd.

“It was frustrating,” Hilton said Wednesdsay, as Pittsburgh — winners of three straight since the loss — prepares to travel to Baltimore for the rematch. It’s just part of the game. You get hurt, you might miss some games. But I’m excited for this Sunday. We have an opportunity to play them in their home stadium, so it’s going to be a good one.”

The Steelers fell behind 14-0 in the first 7 minutes of that game a month ago and, despite battling back to tie the game before halftime, were unable to get the defense off the field when it mattered most. 

“I think we started off, a little bit, on the wrong foot,” Haden said of the early season conversion struggles. “Giving up a little more yards, some passing touchdowns. I think now, just communicating, keeping the ball in front, making sure we make our tackles. I think we’ve been playing really, really well the last three weeks.”

Hilton’s return has greatly bolstered the pass defense.

“He’s a really big difference,” Haden said. “Just being able to cover the slot, being able to blitz, disguise. Being in at safety and nickel. He’s just one of our best blitzers. Just having him is going to allow us to call different calls, make different checks and just help our defense out.”

The Steelers allowed Baltimore to convert eight of its 17 third down chances, going for 47%. Since that game’s Pittsburgh’s defense has allowed just 15 third down conversions on 39 attempts, good for a 38% clip. 

So exactly what has changed?

“Getting (the opponent) in third and longer situations, winning on first down, getting them behind the sticks,” Haden said. “I think we’ve been having some more third and long situations. When we get them in those, it makes it harder to convert and we can get after the quarterback, too.”

On top of the defensive success on third downs, the offense has stepped, too. Against the Ravens, Pittsburgh was 2-of-12 offensively. Through their first four games, the Steelers were 15-of-49 (30.6%). Through the last three weeks, Pittsburgh is 23-of-37, which translates to a remarkable 62%.

“We’re finding our rhythm on both sides of the ball,” Hilton said. “We’re getting off the filled a lot more on third downs, defensively. And the offense is converting drives and putting up points. We’re starting to find that rhythm and gaining confidence as the season goes.”