Saturday’s Wild Card victory over the Houston Texans featured a solid performance across the board for a team that has continued a run of solid play. The offensive line was dominant against a very good front seven, Marlon Mack set the franchise record for rushing yards in a playoff game, and T.Y. Hilton went off enough to make his point and help put the game out of reach.
On the other side, the defense did its work, with Kenny Moore leading the way toward a very near shutout and making a statement of its own that it would not be wise to take them lightly. They have continued to come up big in these games and will be facing their toughest test yet when they travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face the ultra-potent offense of the Chiefs.
With the Colts solid performance at front and center on Saturday, you might be forgiven for missing something curious that didn’t happen in that game. The Colts didn’t use Nyheim Hines in any significant way.
In fact, Hines didn’t have a single run, nor was he targeted in the passing game. That’s a pretty notable absence for a guy who is ranked 3rd in franchise history for receptions as a rookie. He was in the game for just 9 offensive snaps. So the question is, why was Hines used so little?
There are several reasons that might be the case. First, the Texans weren’t a great matchup for him. He wasn’t very effective in their previous road matchup, and the effectiveness of Mack and the early lead the Colts generated negated the need to utilize him very much. That was the line from offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, that they wanted to stick with the hot hand, which makes sense.
Lots of you asked about Nyheim Hines' snap counts: Sirianni says it wasn't anything more than Marlon Mack having the hot hand, so they kept feeding him. Saturday might be completely different for all we know.— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) January 7, 2019
Additionally, as Zach Hicks pointed out to me, as Jordan Wilkins and Mack are the better pass blockers, it made more sense having them involved more in the game with Watt and Clowney attempting to get pressure on Luck. This certainly would make sense, although it wouldn’t totally explain why he wasn’t given any carries.
I do have a theory about Hines and I’ll be interested to see if it holds up. According to Football Outsiders, the Chiefs rank 21st in the league in defending the pass against running backs. Houston, Tennessee, and the Giants all rank in the top ten in that category. Hines hasn’t been used as much over the last few games, and almost none against the Texans, and this may just be why.
If the Colts thought he did not provide an advantage in the running or passing game, the obvious choice was to use Mack and Wilkins more. Hines’ biggest games have come against Oakland, New England, and Miami. Those teams rank 20th, 23rd, and 30th in defending against passes going to running backs. With that information in hand, his absence makes more sense. The Colts have been pretty solid all around at putting their players in favorable matchups, and it seems this was just another case of that.
It also spells the likely possibility of his significant increase in both action and production against the Chiefs on Saturday. His 63 receptions trail just Hilton and Ebron on the year and he represents a tough, reliable, and game-breaking talent that could be huge in the playoffs. Hines will likely be used as a means of misdirection and confusion on nearly every play. What’s more, with his involvement lessened over the past few weeks, he might provide a bit more of a surprise for a defense that may be looking less at the middle of the schedule and more at the recent games.
Hines matches up well against this defense if he can get in space, and he’ll provide a dangerous outlet against a solid pass rush. I would not be surprised at all to see him have a big game at Arrowhead on Saturday.