Much has been made of T.Y. Hilton this past week - and deservedly so. He has emerged into a star receiver and the past two weeks has been playing better than anyone in the NFL - catching 24 passes for 379 yards and 2 touchdowns. A lot of the talk this week has been about how the Patriots will try to take Hilton out of the game.
That's what Bill Belichick loves to do - take away the opponent's biggest threat. He focuses on stopping that one particular aspect and dares teams to beat him another way. He will put Aqib Talib on Hilton today, and Talib is a good corner who has matched up against some of the best receivers and done well. He had a 59-yard pick-six on Andrew Luck last year when the Colts and Patriots played. It is very hard to take Hilton out of a game and it remains to be seen how effectively it works for New England, but Talib is a good corner to be covering Hilton from the Patriots' standpoint - and he will probably have safety help over the top often, too.
Something that hasn't been talked about nearly as much, however, is how the Colts will respond to the Patriots taking Hilton out of the game. If the Patriots succeed in covering Hilton, that will leave Da'Rick Rogers, Griff Whalen, LaVon Brazill, and Coby Fleener as the other players who would factor into the Colts passing game, along with the running backs, Donald Brown and Trent Richardson.
If the Patriots do take T.Y. Hilton out of the game, I guarantee you that someone else will be open. The key will be finding and taking advantage of those opportunities. Of course, the Colts game plan begins and ends with Andrew Luck. The Colts' quarterback is tremendous at moving around in the pocket and outside of it and excels at making plays out of nothing. He will absolutely need to do that this week, and that will be the biggest help in preventing Hilton from being taken out of the game. When the quarterback scrambles, it puts a lot more pressure on the defense. Additionally, it rests on Luck to make reads when he does have time and identify where the openings are in the defense - and they definitely will be there if the Patriots indeed focus on Hilton as much as I anticipate them to.
Perhaps the biggest key for the Colts outside of Luck in this game will be tight end Coby Fleener. The second year tight end had a good season this year and tonight will be matched up on either a linebacker or a safety. Fleener will need to take advantage of those matchups and have a big game. If the Patriots do decide to put a safety on him, it will further open things up for Rogers, Whalen, and Brazill to have bigger nights.
The bottom line is this: the Colts won't give up on T.Y. Hilton. Pep Hamilton will design plays to get Hilton looks, whether it be on a screen, comeback route, etc. And Hamilton likes to help out Hilton by using other receivers to get Hilton better looks. The Colts will still try to get Hilton involved, but at the same time the Patriots will try to take Hilton out of the game by keying in on him as the Colts' biggest weapon. If they do this, I guarantee you that the Colts will have other guys open - they key will be realizing it and making plays to take advantage of those opportunities. Coby Fleener will need to have a big game, but the Colts need Da'Rick Rogers, Griff Whalen, or LaVon Brazill to step up as well.
Of course, don't be surprised either to see the Colts try to establish the run more than they have in recent weeks. With a 100% chance of rain for Foxboro and rainy conditions all day already, plus with a lot of wind, both teams will likely try to run the ball. I'm watching the Saints vs. Seahawks game right now and in the first quarter they both tried to run the ball a lot. I wouldn't be surprised if we see the same thing in the Colts vs. Patriots game. The Colts will try to establish the run, and honestly they have run the ball very well this year overall. But while they've ran the ball well, they've almost always won the game because of Andrew Luck and the passing game, and I expect that to be no different tonight. The Colts can run the ball well but it will still come down to Andrew Luck.
And that very reason is why I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Colts won. Because with Andrew Luck, the Colts are never out.
The Indianapolis Colts play the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs on Saturday night, January 11, 2014 at 8:15 p.m. on CBS.