Nyheim Hines had a bad debut. There isn’t any other way to say it. He struggled mightily in the return game and didn’t redeem himself on the ground. It is fair to say that some of his use was pared down as he will be involved in a handful of gadget type plays every game. However, as a runner and return man, he needs to dramatically improve. We are going to dig in to his film and see what his game looks like under a microscope.
On Hines’ first returnable punt he gets stopped and lets the ball get stripped out. The Colts lucked out because they said that the whistle had been blown for forward progress. It certainly looked like a fumble to me, and I think more often than not this is called a turnover and a huge blow. Hines is a smaller guy, and sometimes that can be a struggle. Hines will have to make sure he fixes that problem or he won’t be getting return responsibilities for long.
Here we see Hines get the handoff on second and long. At first glance it could appear that bad blocking is what resulted in this run going for just 3 yards. However, a closer look shows that Hines just plain goes to the wrong hole. There is a great hole opened up on the right side and given Hines electric speed, this should be something like a 5-6 yard gain at minimum. Instead, he runs directly into the scrum where there is little chance of any actual progress.
What is Hines doing here? If you saw me do this on the field it would be understandable, but this is a really bad look for an NFL running back. He could do one of two things that would be acceptable here. He could block the defender and help out Austin Howard, or he could step inside Howard and released into the flat for a quick pass. Either of those things would have been more helpful than what he chose to do, which was to get in Howard’s way, turn around backwards, and fall down uselessly. This was not a fun play to watch in the film room with Tom Rathman, I am certain.
Here we get a toss to Hines for an outside run. It isn’t a bad play, and results in a five-yard gain. However, given his speed, you would like to see him be able to make the cutback and take advantage of the big running lane to the inside that is opened up and if he does this might be a first down and more. This isn’t exactly an error on his part, but it certainly means he left some yards on the field here.
On this play it is tough to fault Hines for coming up short of the line of scrimmage. There is really no hole to run through at all. The call clearly has him going up the middle, and you don’t want your running backs to be too quick to bounce outside. The opportunity would have been there for him to at least gain a few yards by racing the linebacker to the sideline, but it isn’t really his fault that the line didn’t win their matchups. This one falls more on poor blocking than on his running. It is pretty clear to anyone watching that Hines isn’t the guy they’re using to gash teams up the middle anyway.
Well, up until now I’ve been pretty tough on Hines, but here is an example of him getting it right. It is 3rd and 7 in the red zone. There aren’t many more critical situations. Phillip Walker drops back and Hines steps up to put a hit on a linebacker who comes screaming up the middle. Now the chances are that Walker gets this pass off anyway, but this block is the difference between taking a big hit after the throw or not. This is exactly what you want from your running back on this kind of play.
This is Hines second big mistake. At the last second, he decides he cannot make the catch, but doesn’t get out of the way and it bounces off him. Thankfully Hines is saved again by a heads-up play by Ronald Martin. If the defense recovers this it is a huge swing and they have the ball in great position to score. This kind of momentum changing play is the last thing the Colts can afford in the regular season.
Another punt, another mistake. Hines misjudges the distance of the kick here and finds himself too far forward. He can’t bring the ball in, and only just gets it in hand before the gunner slams into him. If you want to give Hines points for the sheer luck of avoiding 3 turnovers up to this point, I guess you could, but this kind of mistake and narrow miss is one that will lose him the return job if it keeps happening throughout the preseason.
All in all, this was not a good outing for Nyheim Hines at all. He made several critical mistakes that were lucky not to be turnovers. He struggled in pass protection, and he missed some running lanes when asked to carry the ball. In a wide open running back competition, he did not win himself any points with his performance. Fortunately, this was just the first preseason game and he has 3 more to make an impression.
The rest of Hines’ time in camp has not looked as rough as this game did, so it is entirely possible that nerves played a major role in his struggles. If that is true, we will hopefully see a totally different player in week two of the preseason. With some injuries to the running backs, he will certainly get the chance to make a better second impression. If he continues to struggle, it could seriously limit how much he is used once the regular season gets under way.