The Indianapolis Colts' offense struggled early in the season, particularly struggling to maintain any semblance of consistency. So, they fired offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Since then, the offense has struggled as well under Rob Chudzinski.
Granted, the Colts have had to play all but one game under Chud without Andrew Luck, which is a major detriment to the offense. But the past several weeks especially have been glaring: the Colts have scored 10, 16, and 10 points in the last three weeks, and in the biggest game of the year on Sunday, the Colts managed just 190 yards of offense. That's awful production and has been the case for several weeks.
One of the team's stars, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, thinks he knows the reason for those struggles: the play-calling. "The throws have been there, but we just haven't been calling them," Hilton said today, according to the Indianapolis Star. "It's more the play-calling."
Why is that? "Because we're not really using us: Donte (Moncrief), me, Phillip (Dorsett)," Hilton said. "We're fast guys and we're not going down the field how we're supposed to. We're running stick routes, chain routes. I mean, you can do that, but at some point, you have to take your shots to get the defense (moving) back."
In other words, what Hilton is saying is this: the Colts are not going deep whatsoever, and because of that defenses are creeping up and loading the box, which leads to the run game being ineffective and the passing game being limited as well. And, well, he's got a point. On Sunday, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck attempted just seven passes 10+ yards downfield - and while certainly a part of that is trying to protect a hurting player, it does handicap the offense. And the run game has been ineffective too, as Frank Gore has rushed for just 207 yards in the past five games while averaging 2.65 yards per carry.
"It's hard because we're not taking shots down the field, so they're just sitting at the chains waiting for us to break, and they're breaking, too," Hilton said. "We just have to start taking shots down the field and loosen up the defense and get us open.
"Once we start taking shots, it will loosen up the run game and the passing game," he added. "Instead of it being five, six, seven (defenders) in the box, it's all 11. They're just waiting."
Hilton's point is clear: he doesn't think the play-calling has been good and he doesn't think that the coaches have put the Colts in the best position to win. But, with that said, he realizes that his role is to run routes and catch passes, running the plays that are called. "I don't know what's going on (with the coaches)," he said. "I'm just out there running routes. Whatever the play call is, that's what we're running. Hopefully it gets better this week."
Hilton's comments are very surprising but not entirely off either. It's surprising to hear someone like Hilton - one of the team's stars who isn't often outspoken - criticize the coaching staff and the play-calling like this, but he does raise some interesting points about how the Colts need to open things up. Last year, the Colts hit 78 plays of 20+ yards downfield in the passing game, whereas this year they have just 43 such plays. When you take away that deep threat (a big part of that is not having Luck in the lineup), the defense has the advantage by being able to tee-off on the run game and the short passing game. Especially from a wide receiver's perspective, it makes total sense why T.Y. Hilton wouldn't be thrilled with the play-calling. It's surprising that he said these things tonight, but it's also somewhat surprising that we haven't heard a ton of this from players this year.
Ultimately, the move to Rob Chudzinski as offensive coordinator hasn't led to more success offensively. That's not all on him, as a huge part of it is the fact that the offense has been playing without their best player, but when the offense is failing like it has in the past several weeks, no one is absolved of blame. And if you ask T.Y. Hilton, the coaching staff deserves the bulk of it.