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'We want to be as aggressive as we can'

Posted Aug 22, 2017

Cornerbacks perfecting pass-rush techniques in preseason.

Sending nickel cornerback Mike Hilton into the Atlanta backfield didn’t quite have the anticipated result, but the Steelers were happy to settle for the desired effect.

“It opened up for me off the edge,” Hilton explained of his blitz on third-and-12 from the Falcons’ 6-yard line in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 17-13 preseason victory at Heinz Field. “I was able to get to the quarterback.

“He was able to get it out before I was able to get the safety, but it was a big momentum sway for the defense.”

Matt Simms barely avoid a sack in the Atlanta end zone, but following the subsequent punt the Steelers took possession at their 47.

They turned the short field into a seven-play, 53-yard drive for what turned out to be the game winning touchdown.

“We just tried to mix in a lot of different blitzes,” Hilton continued. “We were able to confuse the quarterback and the offensive line sometimes and we were able to get some pressure on them.”

Hilton didn’t get a sack, as he had in the Steelers’ preseason-opening, 20-12 victory over the New York Football Giants on Aug. 11.

But he got to Simms unblocked as part of a five-man pressure in the fourth quarter and helped influence a play that helped turn the game in the Steelers’ favor.

It wasn’t the first time the Steelers had opted to have a cornerback defend a pass on the throwing end rather than the receiving end.

Cornerback Artie Burns rushed as part of a four-man pressure on first-and-10 from the Steelers’ 37 on the Falcons’ first possession. Burns was picked up by running back Terron Ward but was still able to fight through the block and chase quarterback Matt Ryan out of the pocket. Ryan eventually threw the ball out of bounds.

Burns came again on third-and-8 from the Atlanta 42 in the first quarter.

This time he was picked up by guard Sean Harlow on what became a 15-yard completion.

The Falcons also managed a 5-yard gain when cornerback William Gay found a clear path to the pocket between inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich and outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo on third-and-5 from the Atlanta 20 in the second quarter. Gay got a hit on Ryan but arrived just after the ball had been released.

Cornerback Brandon Dixon also rushed the quarterback on each of Atlanta’s final two possessions.

Both plays resulted in incompletions.

“We just want to be as aggressive as we can be, get to the ball as fast as we can, stop the ball as fast as we can,” Burns maintained. “That’s something we put an emphasis on, something ‘Mike T’ (head coach Mike Tomlin) put an emphasis on and something we have to get accomplished.”