The Indianapolis Colts just crushed the Tennessee Titans 38-10 to move to 5-5 on the season. This was an overall dominating performance on both sides of the ball for the team as the offense was clicking on all cylinders and the defense imposed it’s will on Marcus Mariota and the Titans’ offense. One of the most impressive performances of the afternoon though had to be T.Y Hilton toasting the vaunted Titan’s secondary for 9 catches for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Hilton is sort of having a down season despite putting up some of the better numbers of his career. In just 8 games played, Hilton has 38 catches for 585 yards and 6 touchdowns. Over the course of an entire season, that would be over 1,000 yards and double digit touchdowns— a touchdown mark that Hilton has never reached in his career. Even though Hilton hasn’t been the big play threat that he has been in years past, he still averages 15.4 yards per catch which is just 0.4 yards less than his career average.
So despite the perception that this is a down year for Hilton, he has actually been producing when he’s been on the field. The one thing missing seemed to be the monster games that we came to expect from him early in his career.
The Titans seemed content to leave young cornerback Adoree’ Jackson on an island with Hilton all day. This was— to say the least— a poor decision on their part. The numbers were excellent for Hilton on Sunday but let’s look at his catches and see why he was finally able to break out against one of the league’s better young corners.
First play of the game for the offense and Head Coach Frank Reich decides to go to a quick screen to his playmaker on the outside. The Titans are in ten yards off man coverage, a perfect defense to run a quick screen on. Hilton is able to take the quick pass from Andrew Luck and turn up field for a nine yard gain. Hilton’s quickness and suddenness when cutting upfield helps to turn this into a near first down. Not many receivers are as gifted as him in these two areas (as you’ll see in almost every other clip as well).
The next catch by Hilton is a comeback route against Jackson at the top of the screen. Jackson lines up in press man coverage against the speedy receiver. Jackson fails to properly jam Hilton at the line and begins getting his hands on Hilton more down the field— this is likely illegal contact by Jackson but it goes uncalled. Hilton engages in some good hand fighting before quickly breaking to the sideline and gaining separation. Luck is able to hit him on the numbers and Hilton toe taps for the catch.
This next catch by Hilton (top of the screen) is just a veteran move by a receiver who has chemistry with his quarterback. The Titans are in zone defense here and Hilton is running a deep in route. Hilton comes out of his break and hits the breaks to sit down in the zone and find the open spot. If he continues with his route, he runs right into another defender’s zone and takes himself out of the play. By slowing down and sitting in the empty space, he makes himself available for his scrambling quarterback. Great communication by the two to know what the other one is doing as well.
Hilton’s fourth catch of the day is the big one, as he toasts Jackson for a 68 yard touchdown. Let me preface this clip by saying this; there is almost no corner in the NFL who can line up five yards off the ball from Hilton in zero coverage and not get a hand on him and expect to not get toasted. Hilton is winning that route ten times out of ten. Jackson is an elite athlete— 4.42 40 yard dash at the combine— but he’s no match for the speed and quickness of Hilton. Excellent adjustment to the ball in the air as well by Hilton as it was a tad underthrown by Luck. Just a huge play by one of the best deep threats in football since 2013.
This next catch is actually a very good play by Jackson, but Hilton just makes a great adjustment to come up with the catch. Hilton is tasked with running a quick slant with Jackson in deep off coverage. A call that generally works against this type of defense. Jackson does a great job of sitting inside the route and then breaks on the pass when it is thrown. His biggest mistake though was not properly locating the ball and making sure he broke up the pass. He does tip the ball but Hilton is able to locate the ball in the air and catch the pass. A little bit lucky here, but great play by Hilton to come up with the catch.
This next route shows great chemistry between Luck and Hilton. I’m going to make the assumption here that this was an option route based on what Hilton and Luck read as the coverage on the play. During his pre-snap reads, Luck notices that it is likely man coverage and that Jackson is playing way off of Hilton. Hilton realizes this too and Hilton stops his route for the quick hook route. It may have just been a simple hook route call but from my—albeit rather limited— knowledge of offenses similar to the Colts, this is an option route. Regardless though, Luck’s trust in Hilton to throw the ball before Hilton even turns is just evident of how much chemistry these two have.
Hilton’s seventh catch of the day is probably his best of the entire afternoon, perhaps his best of the season. Hilton is running a quick slant on the backside of the play where he is not the primary option. Luck goes through his progressions then bails from the pocket. As Luck begins to bail from the pocket, Hilton breaks upfield towards the goal line. Luck— with complete trust in Hilton— throws a perfect back shoulder dime that Hilton is able to adjust to and make the catch. Hilton then shows off amazing balance and ballerina like toe tapping on the sideline to get into the endzone. Excellent play by these two stars to make a touchdown out of nothing.
This next catch by Hilton (bottom of the screen) is so smooth. Again running a hitch route— mainly because Jackson was bailing hard on all of Hilton’s routes at this point— Hilton is able to create quick separation and make the reception. Look at his footwork on this route though. Hilton is an elite athlete with excellent long speed and suddenness. When you throw in that he can use his quick feet to stop on a dime and run precise routes like this too then you have a player that is virtually impossible to cover one on one.
Hilton’s final catch of the day is a beautifully run “C” route at the top of the screen. Like I’ve mentioned many times throughout this piece, Hilton is one of the most sudden and quick receivers in football. His routes aren’t always crisp but he is typically able to create separation regardless due to his quickness in and out of his breaks. Here though is an example of when his route is crisp and you combine that with his suddenness. You get a wide open route with a corner looking silly. Hilton finishes off the route with a beautiful toe tap on the sidelines for the catch.
Hilton had a field day against the Titans and put up his best performance of the season. He looked like his old self of years past on Sunday, as he was toasting man coverage all over the field. Even though Hilton is still having a great season, it was really nice to see him look how he did in the earlier Andrew Luck years.
Hilton is one of the best receivers in the NFL and this film room definitely shows it. He possesses elite quickness and suddenness which allows him to get constant separation from defensive backs. When the play opens up though for the big play, Hilton also has elite long speed to beat even the best athletes down the field. When his routes are crisp and the ball is on time, he makes defenders look silly. He also displayed some crazy body control on the sidelines all game long as well.
Overall, I really don’t think Adoree’ Jackson had a poor game on Sunday. I think he was put in a poor situation from the start and performed to the best of his ability against a top tier receiver in this league. No cornerback in this league can be expected to line up in off man coverage against T.Y Hilton and expect to find success, especially a young player like Jackson. In summary, the Titans learned something that Colts fans have known for years; you never put a corner on an island against Hilton. If you are crazy enough to try it, Luck and Hilton will make you pay.