Four Downs: Steelers’ Mike Hilton is outstanding vs. run, mediocre against pass
1. Slot machines
Mike Hilton has ceded some of the Pittsburgh Steelers slot-cornerback duties to Cameron Sutton this season. As PennLive.com broke down well, the division of labor in the splitting of snaps is based largely around deploying Hilton against the run and Sutton in passing-heavy situations.
Looking at some of the Pro Football Focus data regarding Hilton, that makes sense.
Per PFF, Hilton is allowing a perfect 158.3 passer rating in eight passes thrown to his coverage. Among 102 qualifying cornerbacks, Hilton is 89th in yards per coverage snap (1.93) and 80th in coverage snaps per reception (7.7). Among 54 qualifying defensive backs in slot coverage, Hilton ranks 51st and 45th in those categories. It was much the same, according to PFF, last season: Hilton was 107th in coverage snaps per reception and 86th in yards per coverage snap.
However, the 5-foot-8 Hilton is outstanding against the run: his 7.0% run-stop percentage led NFL cornerbacks last season. He’s fourth in the league this season at 8.3%. Hilton did not have a missed tackle in the running game throughout the past two seasons.
Mike Hilton makes you feel comfortable playing in nickel against 12 personnel. Best run stopping slot corner in football. 17 TFL since 2017 T-2nd most in NFL by a DB. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/xfdVFbMaWi
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) September 18, 2019
2. No coming for Conner
During the 2018 season opener in his first game as an NFL featured back, James Conner had 135 rushing yards and 192 yards from scrimmage. That’s more than he has in each category right now through three weeks of his second season as the Steelers’ starting running back.
Worse, the blame isn’t because opponents (other than the Seahawks) are gearing up to stop him. Far from it. Of Conner’s 23 combined carries in the Week 1 and Week 3 losses to New England and San Francisco, during only one did the defense have “eight men in the box,” according to NFL Next Gen Stats. And Conner gained 64 yards against those teams (2.8 average).
Also of note: Conner has one carry of longer than 10 yards this season and none of longer than 14 yards. Last season through three weeks, Conner had six carries of at least 10 yards, and he finished the season with nine carries of at least 20 yards.
If you live for their acceptance, you’ll die from their rejection… I can see and feel the hate, all luv tho.. Watch how I bounce back.
— James Conner (@JamesConner_) September 23, 2019
3. Not good
Donte Moncrief was signed in March to a $9 million contract, and he began the regular season as a major part of the offensive gameplan (no skill-position player played more snaps in the opener). By Week 3, though, he was a healthy scratch.
Looking at some of the objective advanced stats and subjective ratings from the analytics community, it’s easy to see why. Across multiple platforms and using differing criteria, Moncrief rates as the worse receivers in the NFL:
Moncrief is last in yards per route run (0.13, per PFF), last in yards after catch for anyone with at least three catches or at least 11 targets (3, per airyards.com), last in yards per targeted throw (0.6) of any player with more than one reception and last in yards per catch among any wide receiver (2.3). Using more advanced statistics (the NFL’s Next Gen), Moncrief has gotten the least average separation of any eligible NFL receiver this season (1.5 yards between him and the nearest defender at the time of catch or incompletion).
Moncrief is rated 108th out of 108 eligible receivers in PFF’s wide receiver ratings. He was 126th out of 126 in footballoutsiders.com’s Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement metric.
4. Still the one
With three touchdowns — two of 55 yards or more — through three weeks this season, the Cincinnati Bengals’ John Ross finally is providing return on the draft investment made in him. The speedster was No. 9 overall pick of a 2017 draft that had three receivers each go in the first and second rounds. Of those, JuJu Smith-Schuster, the youngest and last taken of that group (No. 62 overall), has by far the most receptions (183). Ross still has the fewest with 34. Smith-Schuster has more than twice as many receptions as all but one of the other five, and Ross has almost half as many of any of the other five.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .