Earlier today we continued our series of the 14 most important players to the success of the Colts in 2014, and number 3 on our list was wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. I had high praise for Hilton, writing that,
"For the first time since 2007, the Colts enter a season without Reggie Wayne as their best wide receiver. That's not to take anything away from Reggie Wayne, who is simply phenomenal and who appeared on this list at number 11. It's instead to say that T.Y. Hilton has passed Reggie Wayne as the Colts best and most important wide receiver in 2014."
Whenever Colts fans are encountered with the discussion of T.Y. Hilton, it inevitably goes to his performance against the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. In that game, Hilton caught 5 passes for 140 yards and 2 scores - undoubtedly a great performance. But at the same time, it was one of seven 100+ yard performances for Hilton in 2013 (including playoffs) and one of three 2+ touchdown performances - not to mention the fact that he had 5 100+ receiving games and 1 2+ touchdown game in his rookie season in 2012. The week five game against the Seahawks clearly wasn't even Hilton's best game of the season, with his 13-catch, 224 yard, 2 touchdown game in the playoffs against the Chiefs earning that distinction.
Yet the argument fans will often make for Hilton is something along the lines of, "remember what he did against the Seahawks!" What made that game stand out so much so that it has, in a way, served as the defining game of Hilton's career so far? I looked at the film from that game to investigate further, although that might not even be the real reason for the discussion. Before getting ahead of ourselves, however, let's take a look at the film, examining each play Hilton was targeted in.
Looking at the Tape
Play One: 10:45 (1st Quarter), 3rd and 8 - Andrew Luck incomplete pass intended for T.Y. Hilton
It was an inauspicious start for the Colts, as they got out to a quick 12-0 deficit, and the same was true for the offense. Their first drive ended in a three and out, with the 3rd down play being an attempted pass to Hilton. Hilton ran a mid-slant and had some separation in between two defenders, although Luck was hit as he threw and the pass was batted down without having a chance to even get to Hilton. Not much to see there, other than Luck getting drilled and an incomplete pass leading to a three and out.
Play Two: 1:16 (1st Quarter), 1st and 10 - Andrew Luck complete to T.Y. Hilton for 73 yards, TOUCHDOWN
Shortly after being put in that 12-0 hole, the Colts made a quick strike to get right back into the game. It was a play that would go down as the biggest highlight from Hilton's game, so it's worth looking into as to what made it so great.
Hilton is lined up at the bottom of the picture, and Richard Sherman is the corner covering him. It's a basic formation and one that both the Colts and Seahawks line up in often, so there's nothing abnormal about this formation. It is significant, however, to note that it is Sherman at the bottom of the screen lined up across from Hilton.
As soon as the ball is snapped, Hilton takes off. His initial burst and his speed are both on display here and are both impressive, and due to the nature of the defensive formation he's able to run straight without any press or jam attempt at the line of scrimmage - he has a free release. Andrew Luck's play action to Trent Richardson also plays a key role in this play, freezing the linebacker and Sherman just enough for Hilton to get an edge. Once Luck is finished with his play fake, Hilton is well past Sherman and has just one player left to beat, safety Earl Thomas.
To the far right of the screen now we see Hilton, and he clearly has Sherman beat by a good seven yards. As for Thomas, Hilton's drift toward the sideline creates plenty of separation from the safety as well, and his speed make it such that Hilton can maintain that separation for the time being, easily enough time for Luck to get Hilton the ball for an already big gain.
While it would be a big gain anyway, that's not enough for Hilton, and after catching the ball he displays a tremendous move. Thomas took an angle so that he catches up to Hilton and should be able to make the play, salvaging a blown play by the Seattle defense. Suddenly, however, Hilton stops, right in the middle of the play. He takes a quick stutter step or two, and in the time he spends doing this Thomas completely overruns the play - taking an angle that would have allowed him to make the tackle had it not been for Hilton's move. The stutter buys Hilton the opportunity he needed and he immediately turns on the burners again, cutting it back inside on his way to the end zone. Touchdown, Colts, and a 73 yard scoring toss from Luck to Hilton.
After the play the cameras caught Sherman and Thomas having some words on the field while Hilton celebrated his score with his "T.Y." dance, obviously discussing what went wrong on the play. And certainly, there was a blown play by the Seahawks, because Hilton was allowed to sprint down the field clearly without being picked up by anyone, whether it be Sherman, Thomas, or someone else. Nobody covered Hilton until it was too late. At the same time, the play action fake played a huge part in the play and contributed to that Seattle mishap, and we must not take anything away from Hilton either, as his speed, burst, and elusiveness were all on display. His speed was enough to make a huge play, but the stutter he added toward the end that allowed him to take it all the way for a score took the play into clear highlight material.
Play Three: 4:33 (2nd Quarter), 3rd and 10 - Defensive Pass Interference on Brandon Browner (39 yards)
This one won't show up in the stat book, but it plays just as significant of a role. This time covered by Brandon Browner, Hilton takes off running downfield and Browner keeps up with him, though as Hilton tries to cut back inside a bit to make a move for the ball, there was contact and a flag was thrown on Browner for defensive pass interference, giving the Colts 39 yards and a first down. While it wasn't the most obvious call in the world, it was a good call by the official. Ultimately, the play (which really doesn't count as an "official" play) helped the Colts out just as much as a 39-yard catch would have, and one of Andrew Luck's underrated skills has been drawing flags from defenders. On this play, a defensive pass interference penalty gains the Colts 39 yards.
Play Four: 2:36 (2nd Quarter), 3rd and 10 - Andrew Luck complete to T.Y. Hilton for 13 yards
Down by 5 points late in the second quarter, the Colts faced a third down and 10. Hilton is again at the bottom of the screen (though this time on the opposite side of the field) and is guarded by Brandon Browner in a clear man defensive scheme with press coverage, playing tight to the line of scrimmage.
As Hilton sprints downfield, Browner runs with him with his shoulders open toward the near sideline. Roughly 10 yards down the field, Hilton suddenly stops and cuts inside. Browner actually makes a nice recovery here and catches up to Hilton, though by the time he does so Luck had already completed the pass to his receiver. As Hilton cut inside to the middle of the field, it was cleared out and there was no one there but Hilton being trailed by Browner, and it was a 13-yard catch to move the chains, made possible by a nice piece of route running from the young receiver.
Play Five: 4:22 (3rd Quarter), 1st and 10 - Andrew Luck complete to T.Y. Hilton for 29 yards, TOUCHDOWN
Down eight mid-way through the third quarter, the Colts were driving and had a first and ten inside the Seahawks 30 yard line, hoping to capitalize on the drive and convert it into points that would hopefully tie the game. Hilton is lined up to the left of the offensive line (top of the picture), once again being guarded by Brandon Browner in a press man coverage.
Hilton runs an outside wheel route along the sidelines and maintains space between himself and the sideline, knowing that Luck will throw a quick lob to the end zone. After looking off to the right side of the field, Luck does just that, immediately turning his head left and lobbing a pass to the end zone for Hilton. Browner's coverage here isn't bad, Hilton and Luck's timing is just that much better. Hilton runs under Luck's lob perfectly (on a perfectly thrown ball, I might add) and it's a Colts touchdown. This one was simple, yet it shows the chemistry the second year quarterback and second year receiver have. Hilton's wheel route brings him directly under a perfectly thrown pass from Luck and it's a score.
Play Six: 13:56 (4th Quarter), 3rd and 10 - Defensive Pass Interference on Richard Sherman (16 yards)
As we already looked at earlier, pass interference plays, while not going down in the scorebook as an official play, often play a big role in the game. This time Richard Sherman again lines up against Hilton, and Hilton again takes off from the line sprinting downfield, but as he tries to cut off the route and come back for the ball, Sherman grabs a hold of him for a brief moment and delays Hilton, preventing him from getting to the pass, which fell incomplete. A flag was correctly thrown on Sherman for the play, and although he argued it, it was the right call. The Seahawks love to play physical, but that play prevented Hilton from a chance at the ball. Again on 3rd down, a pass interference against a defender guarding T.Y. Hilton gave the Colts a first down.
Play Seven: 13:18 (4th Quarter), 2nd and 10 - Andrew Luck complete to T.Y. Hilton for 13 yards
Hilton this time lines up in the slot (second Colt from the bottom of the picture) with the cornerback, Seahawks nickel guy Walter Thurmond, playing six yards off the line.
From the snap, Hilton begins his way toward the middle of the field on a curved slant route, cutting underneath of Thurmond and creating plenty of separation for Luck to fire a pass in to Hilton for a gain of 13. Hilton almost broke the play by splitting the two defenders who closed on him, but ultimately was tripped up and brought down. Still, Hilton came out of the slot and cut underneath the coverage, gaining a first down.
Play Eight: 11:50 (4th Quarter), 3rd and 10 - Andrew Luck complete to T.Y. Hilton for 12 yards
Hilton is lined up at the top of the picture, guarded by Richard Sherman, who came running up to the line of scrimmage to play tight on Hilton off the snap. Hilton begins this play just like he begins every other one, taking off sprinting downfield.
Once he gets about 10 yards downfield, Hilton stops and looks like he's going to break on a comeback route toward the near sideline. That's what it looks like to the casual viewer watching and that's what it looked like to Sherman too, but here Hilton again puts on a nice display of route running by faking the comeback outside and immediately spinning inside, cutting toward the middle of the field. As he does so, however, Luck gets drilled while releasing the pass, causing the ball to sail behind Hilton. In a tremendous display of skill and athleticism, Hilton - who had beat Sherman on the inside cut - reaches back and while outstretched grabs the pass and hauls it in.
Film + Significance = Memorable
So we've looked at the tape of every play in which Hilton was targeted, and it was impressive. Hilton hauled in 5 passes for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns, and added two pass interference penalties drawn for 55 yards. Total, Hilton accounted for 195 yards and 2 scores - not a bad day's work. On the tape, we saw Hilton utilize his speed, elusiveness, and route running to put on a tremendous display of receiving against the Seahawks. The film is very impressive, but what makes this one the game fans refer to when talking about Hilton instead of performances such as the aforementioned Chiefs game? A key to understanding this isn't just to look at what Hilton did but also who he did it against.
The Seahawks were clearly the NFL's best team in 2013, going 13-3 in the regular season and going on to win the Super Bowl in a dominating performance against the high-scoring prolific passing attack of the Denver Broncos, winning 43-8. It was the most dominating defensive performance in recent memory and all season long the Seahawks defense was the league's best, led by two of the best (if not the two best) defensive backs in the entire NFL in corner Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas. Those two are the best players on a tremendous defense and they led the way last year, shutting down a number of opponents, including Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the big game. Furthermore, Brandon Browner is a very talented corner, though he has struggled with substance abuse issues and will serve a four game suspension to start this season with the New England Patriots. That said, he's very talented and plays well when on the field, and he was certainly on the field last October against the Colts. Furthermore, Walter Thurmond (who himself was suspended four games last year for violating the league's substance abuse policy) was a very good nickel corner guy, which he played against the Colts (Thurmond is now with the New York Giants). Bottom line, the Seahawks defense was the league's best, the Seahawks secondary was the league's best, and Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas were two of the league's best.
All season long, in 19 games (including playoffs), only 5 receivers topped 100 yards against Seattle. The Saints's Marques Colston totaled 144 yards in the divisional round game against the Seahawks, the highest individual receiving yard total the defense allowed, and the Jaguars's Cecil Shorts racked up 143 yards in week three for the second highest total. Then came Hilton's 140 yards in week five, followed by Demaryius Thomas's 118 yards in the Super Bowl for the Broncos and then Andre Johnson's 110 yards for the Texans in week four. Other than that, no receiver topped 100 yards in a game against the Seahawks in 2013, and in fact while only five times the opponent's leading receiver topped 100 yards, nine times the opponent's leading receiver finished with less than 60 yards. Furthermore, of those five receivers to top 100 yards, here's their full box score line against the Seahawks:
|Receptions||Yards||Touchdowns||Yards Per Catch|
All of those are impressive performances, to be sure, but to me, Hilton's looks to be the most impressive stat line. Watching the film confirms just how impressive Hilton was during that game, although it looks much better when you consider who he was doing it against, and that was the league's best defense, their best secondary, and some of the league's best players.
T.Y. Hilton's performance against the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 won't be forgotten anytime soon by Colts fans and instead fans will continue to use it to show just how good Hilton is. The film can confirm this, although it's important to note that Hilton did that in many games last year, not just against the Seahawks. The Seattle game is the one fans use, however, because it was the one that came in the huge win over the Seahawks (because, as a side note, Hilton was the only one of the 100+ yard receivers against Seattle last year to do so in a win), who had the best defense in the NFL. The same defense that embarrassed (sorry Peyton...) the Broncos in the biggest game of them all last year. The same defense that dominated plenty of other opponents throughout the course of the year. The same defense that featured the league's best secondary and some of the league's best players in Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. For Colts fans, the win over the Seahawks last year not only showed that the Colts team could go up against the NFL's best and come out victorious, it showed that the Colts's second year wide receiver, T.Y. Hilton, was good enough to go up against the NFL's best and burn them. There's plenty of reasons why Colts fans think so highly of Hilton's performance in that game, but perhaps it's summed up best in that it was the game that really made us stop and say, "if this guy can do that against the Seahawks defense, imagine what he can do against other defenses!"
Like the Chiefs.