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Colts receiver corps has solid outing in Week 9, definitely misses Hilton as team’s consistent threat

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

As if things weren’t already hard enough for Frank Reich and the Indianapolis Colts’ offense rolling into Pittsburgh without T.Y. Hilton, the team lost center Ryan Kelly to a stinger, AND their quarterback Jacoby Brissett to a knee injury suffered early in the first half Sunday.

Brissett started off things pretty well going 4-of-5 for 59 yards, but it was up to Brian Hoyer to lead the offense against a very tough Steelers’ defense the rest of the way in his absence. Hoyer started out throwing an 11-yard touchdown on his first drive under center, but on his second drive targeted Doyle again in the end zone and threw a pick-six to Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Hoyer drove the Colts down the field again, throwing a very nice touchdown pass to Zach Pascal high and away from the Steelers’ secondary to put the Colts up 16-10 with just 0:42 to go in the first half. All in all, I don’t think any of us could have really expected a much better performance in spite of our collective nerves buzzing every time he dropped back to throw.

Most of the questions coming into the game were centered around the receiving corps, with the need for someone besides Pascal to step up and make a play for this offense. In the first half, it was three catches by Pascal, and two grabs from Parris Campbell that highlighted the position group. Overall for the receivers, they were responsible for 6 catches on 7 targets of the team’s total passing attempts for a total of 79 receiving yards and Pascal’s touchdown in the first half.

But, in an effort to be realistic here, we all know Reich likes a game-plan that spreads the ball around whether Hilton is in the game or not. The one question that comes with the results post-game, is where was Eric Ebron in all of this? Two catches for 16 yards and one of them being given to him on a declined holding call against a soft defense on a third-and-25 play?

Well, you can’t have it all without your top receiver, center, or starting quarterback and playing on the road.

Campbell looked good in the second half as well, and Rogers came through in the clutch with a touchdown reception on fourth down, that was an equally excellent throw from Hoyer. Pascal made some fantastic catches throughout the day, and has absolutely solidified himself as the team’s No. 2 WR and may even hold onto that moniker after Devin Funchess returns.

One thing that we didn’t want to see was several drops from the rest of the team’s existing receivers today. We witnessed two drops by Rogers (and a fumbled return, but that’s not the discussion here), and another from Cain just looking at the WR position. Hines had another that immediately comes to mind, and you can probably argue another from the rest of the pass catchers.

In the end, the Colts’ receivers hauled in 13 of the team’s 21 completions, and accounted for 151 of the team’s 189 passing yards, as well as 2 of the 3 receiving touchdowns. Yes, the team obviously missed Hilton in this game, but the guys who suited up carried their weight for the most part.

Cain is still such a major disappointment, but you have to love what Campbell did (5 catches on 5 targets, 53 yards, 80 total yards) — outside of an unforced fumble on the run after the catch — after he did exactly nothing last week and has been drawing some of the same questions that Cain had up to this point.

The team definitely needs Funchess back to assume his physical role inside of 15-20 yards, and Hilton’s threat of being on the field is sorely missed as well. Campbell and Cain are simply going to have to become more dependable (one game for Campbell isn’t enough for it to be expected), and maybe Ashton Dulin deserves to get more snaps in order to find a more dynamic replacement for Rogers going forward — just spit-balling.

Anyway you look at it, the Colts need a receiving corps with more competitive depth. The team will always utilize the tight ends and running backs under Reich’s scheme, but with just an injury to Hilton, the group loses it’s capability of being a threat to most competent secondaries in the NFL. That needs to change in order to absorb injuries to just one guy who is clearly not replaceable within this roster right now.