There's No Way Around It: T.Y. Hilton Must Be More Involved in Colts Offense

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

T.Y. Hilton's role in the Colts offense was diminished on Sunday, and that needs to change. It starts with the coaches getting him involved.

Ask any Colts fan who the player of the preseason was, and they'll give you one of two answers: either outside linebacker Caesar Rayford or wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Now, Rayford is gone, having been traded to the Dallas Cowboys, and Hilton wasn't near as involved during the first regular season game as most expected or would like.

He caught only 3 passes for 20 yards and had only 5 official targets all game. I went back and watched every snap he was on the field for, and as an offense, with Hilton on the field, Luck completed 12 of 16 passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns, the team rushed 5 times for 51 yards and a touchdown (with 2 carries for 28 yards and the score coming via Luck on designed pass plays), Luck was sacked twice, and three plays were negated due to penalties (and a fourth should have been as well).

So let's just break this down a little by looking at the numbers, the individual plays that Hilton was directly involved, and how Pep Hamilton can get him more involved this week - and why it's important to do that.

Firstly, it was obvious that the offense was better with Hilton in the game. Many people have attributed that to the fact that this offense is better in a three wide receiver set, but I'd inversely attribute the success of the offense in a three wide set to T.Y. Hilton. There was only one time they ran a 3 wide set without Hilton on Sunday (with Griff Whalen as the third WR) and only one time that they ran a 2 wide receiver set with Hilton in the game (with Hilton in the game instead of Darrius Heyward-Bey). That means that all but one play Hilton was on the field when they went 3 WR, and only one play without Hilton was run from a 3 wide set.

What also stood out to me was the fact that when Hilton was in the game, it was almost always a passing play. On 20 plays Hilton was in, it was a designed pass play and on only 3 plays was it a designed run. Granted, two of the designed passes ended up as scrambles and two of them ended up as sacks, but the intent of the play was a pass.

So when T.Y. Hilton is on the field, the Colts run a 3 wide receiver offense and pass the ball. It's no wonder so many fans want him on the field, as that's the offense they'd like to see. But it's not the offense that the Colts primarily want to run, and so that creates a problem.

T.Y. Hilton is clearly the team's second best wide receiver, and that's not meant as a slight to Darrius Heyward-Bey at all. DHB has done everything the Colts have asked him to do in games and could be a very solid receiver for the Colts, but the fact of the matter is that T.Y. Hilton is just better. Hilton is the piece of this offense that provides the spark; he's the one who provides the game-changing plays; he's the explosive weapon that they need to utilize as much as possible. But even more so, he has developed great timing with Andrew Luck. That was one of the things that impressed me most in training camp - how much Luck and Hilton have developed a great chemistry. The straight up truth is that the Colts' offense needs T.Y. Hilton, and they didn't really use him as much as they should have on Sunday.

Let's take a step back and add some perspective to this, however. On Sunday Hilton was targeted 5 times in 23 pass attempts. That's 21.7% of Luck's attempts. Last season, Hilton was targeted on only 14.5% of attempts (91/627) and in the preseason he was targeted on only 9.2% (10/109 - now granted, the preseason stats don't mean much because Hilton didn't play the entire game in the three that I took the stats from). In other words, being targeted on 21.7% of the attempts is not a bad number at all. So perhaps this would also be a good time to add that the Colts need to get the ball in Andrew Luck's hands more. They dropped back in a passing play with him 33 times, and only 23 times did he actually throw. For a franchise quarterback who has consistently proven that he's the one winning games for the Colts, that number absolutely needs to be higher. I don't care what the coaches have talked about with the run balance or anything else, the bottom line is that the number of attempts for Luck MUST increase. If that happens, Hilton's stats will improve.

But his role? What was that like on Sunday? That wasn't what it needs to be. He was directly involved in only six "plays." Here's a chart of those plays.

Plays where T.Y. Hilton was Directly Involved vs. Raiders
Quarter Time Down Result Hilton's route (lined up at)
2 4:53 1-10 5 yard reception screen (wide right)
3 14:00 3-2 Defensive Pass Interference quick slant (wide right)
4 9:46 3-8 12 yard reception comeback (wide left)
4 8:00 2-2 Incomplete deep Go slanting across field (wide left)
4 7:27 1-10 Incomplete deep Go (wide right)
4 6:15 2-7 3 yard reception Crossing route (slot right)

Two things are interesting to me about the game in general, and then Hilton's role:

  1. T.Y. Hilton was in the game for all three of the team's scoring plays. What does that mean? Probably not much, but it is definitely interesting that all three plays the Colts scored on were run out of a 3 wide set with Hilton on the field.
  2. Hilton's role greatly increased on the Colts' lone fourth quarter drive. He was on the field for 9 of the 11 plays on the drive and, as the chart above showed, four of the six plays that he was directly involved in came on that fourth quarter drive when they greatly needed a score, even though they had plenty of time to run the football if they so wished. It seems to me like the Colts feel much better about their chances of scoring with Hilton on the field than they do without him out there. Hopefully their attempt to get Hilton involved towards the end of the game is because they realized how much their offense needs him in general and not based on the situation.
The Colts won Sunday, I get it. But there were a lot of issues that the team needs to work on. In a positive light, however, much of the reasons, at least on offense, can be fixed by coaching. The two things I mentioned that they need to improve on offensively? Get Luck more attempts and get Hilton more involved. Some will throw in the offensive line as something that needs to improve, and I would agree, but my point remains the same. The ball is in Pep Hamilton's court, and he needs to make sure he gets it into T.Y. Hilton's hands.
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