One of the most central figures to the Indianapolis Colts' offense this year has been T.Y. Hilton, without a doubt. Hilton hasn't been overly great this year as it looks like he's still hampered by an injury, but he has caught 38 passes for 606 yards (7th-most in the NFL) and three scores, averaging 16.4 yards per reception (tied for the tenth-highest in the league) and has nine plays of 20+ yards (tied for 7th in the league).
What is more remarkable, however, is the number of times that Hilton has been thrown at. The Colts have thrown the football to him 75 times this year, which is tied for the fourth-most among all NFL wide receivers, behind only DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, and Keenan Allen. He's averaging 10.7 targets per games this year, which would put him on pace for 171 targets this season - by far the most he's seen in a single-season - and he has been thrown at 20 more times than the next closest Colts player. Over a quarter of the team's throws have been to Hilton, and he's often the first read for Andrew Luck.
That's precisely why the Carolina Panthers don't expect the Colts to change that for their game on Monday night. The Colts have very heavily involved Hilton so far this year, and with how much of a staple that is to their offense, the Panthers expect the Colts to continue to do that on Monday night. Why is that significant? Because Josh Norman, Carolina's star corner, isn't used to being targeted but expects to be this Monday night. According to ESPN's David Newton, Norman has been targeted just three times in the last two weeks combined, with two of those attempts coming on screen passes.
"I don't see why he wouldn't come at me,'' Norman said of Andrew Luck this week, according to Newton. "T.Y. had like 12 targets a game. I don't see them taking that away from what they do.'' Norman wouldn't say whether he will shadow Hilton, instead simply saying "that's G-14 classified information right there, boss,'' but his non-answer would seem to suggest that he might, which would make sense from the Panthers' perspective.
There's a reason why teams aren't throwing at Norman, however, as he's tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions this year (tied with Charles Woodson and the Colts' Mike Adams). He's also tied for fourth in the league with 10 passes defensed, tied for the league lead with two interceptions returned for a touchdown, and has also forced and recovered a fumble.
He has had a terrific season, to be sure, and that has led to a number of quarterbacks (like Russell Wilson and Sam Bradford the last two weeks) shying away from him. It's unlikely that the Colts will do that, however, as T.Y. Hilton has been such an integral part of what they have done offensively. They've thrown at him 10.7 times per game, on average, and haven't thrown to him less than seven times in a game yet this season. So if Josh Norman shadows Hilton on Monday night, he's likely to get several passes thrown his way. Then, it's simply a matter of the Colts' Pro Bowl quarterback and wide receiver making plays against a corner who will surely make the Pro Bowl this year. Hilton is often Luck's first read, and the quarterback hasn't been coming off of that first read too well at times this year. It will be important to do that on Monday night, however, as he can't afford to force too many balls to Hilton with the ball-hawking cornerback waiting. It will be a fun matchup to watch, to be sure, and one that the Colts will need to win if they hope to win the football game.