Indianapolis Colts Offense: Analyzing Patriots’ Week 6 Test

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Oct 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) runs past Jacksonville Jaguars safety Jonathon Cyprien (37) and linebacker Thurston Armbrister (57) in the second half at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

T.Y. Hilton, Wide Receiver

The following is the greatest and best summary ever of the man who goes by “The Ghost”, courtesy of Grantland’s Bill Barnwell:

“…After drafting a pair of tight ends in Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, Grigson gave the 49ers a fifth-rounder to move up from 97 to 92 and grab Hilton, who was supposed to be limited to deep routes as a downfield burner who couldn’t get off the line of scrimmage. It turns out that’s still a really valuable skill: Hilton caught 52.3 percent of the “deep” passes thrown to him last year (16-plus air yards), a figure only topped by Antonio Brown and Julio Jones among receivers with a minimum of 30 targets on those throws.”

So yeah, T.Y. Hilton is fast, pizza is good, Emilia Clarke is hot, whatever.  We all know this.

What’s different from Hilton’s last couple seasons, though, is the number of times the rock is finding itself going in Hilton’s direction.  Over five games, Indy has targeted Hilton fifty times, which, of course, averages out to 10 targets a game.

This obliterates Hilton’s 2014 total, where he got 130 targets over 16 games, which averages out to about 8 per game.  Interestingly, the percentage of those targets that he’s actually hanging on to has decreased since last year: in 2014, he caught 63% of his targets.  This year, it’s down to 54%.

Also interesting: despite a vast increase in passes, Hilton has yet to find the end zone this season. He’s never exactly been a touchdown machine (the most touchdowns Hilton has ever logged in a season is 7), but when the man’s average reception is going for 14.1 yards, you have to figure he’s due to score sooner or later.

Who Can Stop Him?

The easy answer here is Malcolm Butler.  But after looking at how the Patriots almost completely wiped T.Y. Hilton off the stat sheets in 2014, it’s not that simple.

In both games where the Patriots and Colts squared off last season, New England used a variety of coverages against Indy’s #13, ranging from man-to-man coverage from Kyle Arrington to a double-team involving safety Devin McCourty, with Darrelle Revis drawing man-to-man duty on now-ex-Colt superstar Reggie Wayne.

Where this game plan gets really intriguing is that so far this year, the Pats clearly aren’t scared to put Malcolm Butler on an island with another team’s best offensive weapon.  While Antonio Brown might have torched Butler on a few flat-out inhuman receptions in Week 1, Butler absolutely put the straps on Cowboys wideout Terrance Williams last weekend, holding Dallas’s de facto number one receiver to two catches for 30 yards.

Another problem with the “DURRRR let’s just put Malcolm Butler in man coverage on the best receiver!” knee-jerk strategy is Andre Johnson, who we’ll get to later, appears to have suddenly remembered how to play football again last week, and represents a completely different type of receiver than Hilton.

Given that Belichick & company decided to play Darrelle Revis last year on a lot of the veteran receivers that might fool younger DBs with their technique, this much is certain for whoever draws T.Y. Hilton’s assignment on Sunday night:

Don’t let the Ghost get behind you.

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