How T.Y. Hilton Transforms the Indianapolis Colts Offense
While the biggest story of the Colts' 34-28 win probably should be the remarkable play of Andrew Luck, another Colt has been praised heavily following his contribution to the Colts' win over the Seahawks: T.Y. Hilton.
Hilton finished the game with five catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns on just six targets. Hilton also drew two pass interference penalties for 55 yards, accounting for 195 yards on the day for Indianapolis.
The biggest play of the day came in the first quarter, as Hilton's 73-yard touchdown reception from Andrew Luck completely reversed the tide of the game, which had been been all Seahawks to that point. The score meant a 12-0 lead for Seattle was suddenly cut to 12-7, and the Colts would get a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown on the ensuing possession.
Hilton said after the game that he was inspired by Seattle CB Brandon Browner's comments during the game. Browner reportedly told Hilton that he was "light as (expletive)," which flipped a light switch in Hilton.
Whatever switch was flipped, it certainly worked.
But why was Hilton so effective against the "Legion of Boom?" There were a few reasons, but overall, it's the fact that Hilton is simply becoming a more well-rounded weapon.
The most obvious way that Hilton causes problems for defenses is as a deep threat.
This was apparent last season, as Hilton averaged over 17 yards per attempt and had five 100-yard games in 2012. Since the beginning of last season, only Adrian Peterson has more 50-plus yard touchdowns.
Against Seattle, Hilton scored twice on long passes, the first one a 73-yard bomb, where Hilton found space between the safety and Richard Sherman.
The Colts run three players to the right sideline, with Robert Hughes shallow, Coby Fleener medium and Hilton deep. The issue for Seattle comes between Fleener and Hilton. Richard Sherman has to stay with Hilton, but he's also worried about Coby Fleener, as the inside linebacker is too central to make a play if Fleener cuts outside.
With Hilton's speed, Sherman's hesitation costs him dearly, and Earl Thomas has too much ground to make up.
Sherman actually slows on the play, assuming Thomas will knock Hilton out of bounds. But with a hesitation, Hilton is able to bypass Thomas, and Sherman can't catch up before Hilton scores.
But Hilton's speed is best exemplified by his second touchdown.
Look at where Hilton is in relation to Browner when Andrew Luck cocks his arm back to throw, compared to where he is when he receives the pass.
Hilton simply gets to another level of speed after Luck lets go of the ball, and the placement from Luck is perfect.
With chemistry like that, Luck/Hilton are a dangerous combination for any defense to stop.
A Dangerous Decoy
While Hilton wasn't getting the deep balls earlier this season, he's still been going deep.
Teams have respected Hilton's speed, and that has opened up the field for other players.
Doug Farrar broke this concept down for Sports Illustrated last week:
And when the Colts do run play-action, one of their favorite concepts is to line speedy young receiver T.Y. Hilton outside veteran Reggie Wayne in the slot. At the snap, you’ll see Hilton take the top off and work at least one safety, while Wayne owns the middle of the field behind linebackers that have been frozen by the fakes.
One week later, and the Colts are still using similar concepts.
Check out this play, for example, from the first quarter:
Hilton takes the the safety out of this play (yellow), which opens up a wide open space for Fleener (pink) in the middle of the field.
On this particular play, Luck doesn't see Fleener, and goes to Wayne (blue) who is isolated on a linebacker, but the concept is there.
A Progressing Possession Receiver
It's fantastic that Hilton can be a deep threat and a decoy, but if he's a one-trick pony, then defenses can take him out of the game plan by playing off of him and shading a safety over to one side.
So, Hilton needed to become a more consistent possession receiver in his sophomore season. In 2012, Hilton struggled to consistently get separation in short and intermediate routes. Hilton also had some consistency issues with his hands, dropping 10 passes on the season. Hilton's drop rate, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), was 79th out of 82 qualifying receivers.
This season, however, Hilton has improved immensely. Hilton's dropped just two passes through five games, and has cut his drop rate in half. So far this season, Hilton is 46th out of 90 receivers. There's still room for improvement, but it's a great sign from the former third-round pick.
His improved hands have been key to his ability to be a possession receiver, like this third down conversion against Seattle.
Against Seattle, Hilton had two catches to convert on third down for 12 and 13 yards. He beat Sherman on this one, and Browner on the other.
Hilton's fifth catch came on second down, but he got the first down with a possession play.
Coby Fleener goes up field, taking the middle linebacker with him. The slot cornerback is respecting Hilton's speed, and gives him plenty of room to cut inside on a slant and gain the first down.
If Hilton can consistently get space on those kinds of plays, defenses will have to pick their poison. Press Hilton and risk a huge play, or give him space to work underneath. Of course, there's always the option of sliding a safety over, but that, as we discussed, opens up the middle for Reggie Wayne and Coby Fleener.
It's a versatility that's incredibly valuable, but it all starts with his speed and big-play ability. With him on the field, the Colts are a threat to score from anywhere.
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