Steelers hoping to slow down Chiefs’ game-breaking WR Tyreek Hill
Being a helpful older brother, Derek Watt offered his youngest sibling a brief assessment of the Kansas City Chiefs after they beat his San Diego Chargers, 38-28, in the opening week of the NFL season.
“He told me ‘10’ is fast,” T.J. Watt said. “I said I already knew that.”
T.J. Watt and the rest of his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates already were aware that No. 10, Tyreek Hill, possessed roadrunner-like speed and game-breaking abilities before the 5-foot-10, 185-pound wide receiver played his first snap this season.
But Hill reinforced the damage he can inflict on defenses and special teams units when he totaled 268 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns, including two before the game was nine minutes old to give the Chiefs a 14-3 lead against the Chargers they would not relinquish.
The Steelers will try their hand at containing Hill when they host the Chiefs on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler was matter of fact when asked this week about how to handle the third-year phenom.
“Just hope you can slow that sucker down,” Butler said. “He’s as fast as lightning, isn’t he? Yeah, he is fast.”
Hill put his 4.24 speed on display two minutes into the opener when he fielded a punt at the Chiefs 9 and scooted around the left side for a 91-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead. Seven minutes later, he caught a slant from quarterback Patrick Mahomes and outraced all defenders for a 58-yard score. In the fourth quarter, he completed his hat trick of touchdowns with a 1-yard reception on a shovel pass.
“I think the longer he’s there, the more engrained he is in their offense, the more it becomes problematic down in and down out,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “He’s just a talented player, one that has to be minimized because every time the ball snaps, he’s capable of running through the end zone.”
Since entering the NFL in 2016, Hill has 13 touchdowns of 50-plus yards in 32 career games. And he’s not exactly a one-trick pony, piling up six of those scores as a receiver, four as a punter returner, two as a rusher and one as a kick returner.
If any team outside of the AFC West is familiar with Hunt, it’s the Steelers. This will be the fourth meeting between the teams, counting playoffs, in Hill’s three seasons.
And the Steelers have kept Hill in check — for the most part. In his rookie season, Hill broke off a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown, but it was nullified by a penalty. Hill has 14 career receptions for 85 yards and one touchdown against the Steelers. He has averaged 11.8 yards on five punt returns and 21 yards on six kickoff returns — with no touchdowns.
“I feel like as a defense we do a good job of minimizing special talents, players we know are special talents and problem makers (for a defense),” free safety Sean Davis said.
That Hill has averaged barely 6 yards per reception in his career against the Steelers speaks to their success at limiting his yardage after the catch. The Chargers allowed Hill to roam free across the middle, and he totaled 169 yards on seven receptions – a 24.1 average.
“YAC is going to be a big point of emphasis this week and making sure we tackle the catch,” Davis said.
On special teams, the Steelers will either kick away from Hill or try to pin him near the sidelines where he has limited area to run.
“You have to take your shot with him,” linebacker and special teams standout Tyler Matakevich said. “Anytime he gets you stuttering your feet, he wins. You have to stay square. We know what he likes to do. He wants to get as much space as he can. We have to be real disciplined with our lanes and make sure we are working together.”
On defense, the Steelers could assign a cornerback to shadow Hill, but Artie Burns and Joe Haden rarely leave their sides of the field. Also, Haden is likely to sit out the game with a hamstring injury, putting Coty Sensabaugh or Cameron Sutton in a starting role. Burns is dealing with a toe injury.
Slot corner Mike Hilton could be asked to follow Hill around the field.
“You have to make sure that you don’t let him get behind you and you (have to) try to disrupt him a little bit,” Butler said. “Disrupt their timing a little bit if you can.”
That could put the onus on the defense to apply pressure to Mahomes, a second-year quarterback who is in his first year as a starter. The Steelers got seven sacks in the season-opening tie with Cleveland and allowed minimal damage on deep pass plays.
Mahomes, though, was sacked only once by the Chargers, and he is a more effective deep passer than the Browns’ Tyrod Taylor. Mahomes had 256 yards and four touchdowns on just 15 completions.
And for all of the focus on Hill, the Steelers can’t ignore running back Kareem Hunt, the NFL’s rushing leader last year as a rookie, All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce and former No. 4 overall pick Sammie Watkins.
“They have so many weapons on offense,” Watt said. “When you have that many weapons of that caliber and that many Pro Bowlers, they’re going to do a great job of spreading the ball out, and you’ve got to eliminate as much as possible. You’ve got to know they’re going to get chunk plays as well, and you’ve got to bounce back.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at email@example.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.