The Indianapolis Colts offense has been inconsistent at best this season. They have been at their best when featuring running back Nyheim Hines in the offense, particularly in the passing game. When the Colts target Hines more than five times in the passing game, they average nearly 33 points per game this season. When he doesn’t reach five targets, they average just 20 points per game.
On Thursday we saw exactly the impact a player like Hines can have on an offense. The Colts opted for an up-tempo, aggressive offensive style and he was a major part of that. He finished the game with 12 carries for 70 yards and a touchdown while also adding 5 catches for 45 yards and another score. Today we will look at how he was able to impact this game in multiple ways and why he is the biggest playmaker in this offense.
Best Career Game on the Ground
While this game wasn’t Hines career high in rushing yards (that was actually against Oakland in 2018 with 78 rushing yards), I would argue that this was his most impressive rushing game in his career. This was the first time we really saw him as the main contributor in the rushing game and he looked patient and fast all game long.
The Colts have not had an athletic, decisive runner out of their backfield this season. Rookie Jonathan Taylor has the athleticism but is slow to make his reads while Jordan Wilkins has excellent vision but lacks that second gear through the hole. Hines on Thursday combined the best of both of these rushers. He sets up inside on this rush which leads to Rashaan Evans slashing to the interior of the line. Hines then finds the space vacated on the outside and accelerates through the gap for a big gain.
Nyheim Hines has never been known for his vision but he was great running the ball on Thursday. Sets up inside here before bouncing back to the right of the line. Great blocking by Braden Smith and Mark Glowinski to spark this run pic.twitter.com/DAuo784eAS— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 15, 2020
Having speed kills and this play shows exactly why. Rashaan Evans (#54) on the Titans takes an extremely aggressive angle on this run fill as he shoots inside at the snap. Hines notices this and quickly takes the hand-off and bolts for the vacated lane left on the strong side. He is able to squeeze by Evans in the backfield and even make a very good linebacker in Jayon Brown miss at the next level as well. This speed and acceleration though right after the hand-off is why it is so vital that running backs have that second gear. Hines has it (and is probably fast enough to have a third gear too).
This is the advantage of having a speedy back like Hines. LB Rashaan Evans aggressively shoots the A gap which leaves the B gap vacated. Hines hits the hole quickly and gains 12 yards. Should have been a facemask call on top of this too pic.twitter.com/oeu6gfgg0R— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 15, 2020
Jonathan Taylor has not been bad this year but the two biggest areas where he can improve are breaking tackles and being more decisive in his rushes. Hines showed his veteran savvy in this game and was able to excel in both of these areas. He has a nice lane behind Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly on this play and does a great job of planting his foot and getting vertical quickly on this stretch run. He also does an outstanding job of keeping his legs moving and running through an arm tackle at the line of scrimmage to gain extra yards. This is perfect teach tape for what Taylor needs to improve at going forward.
Thursday was Hines' best day as a rusher in his career. Was patient yet decisive with all his runs. Times his cut perfectly here as he plants his foot and gets up field for the first pic.twitter.com/qox6DQFUhk— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 15, 2020
Run Blocking Paved the Way
We have talked about it all season. The Colts run blocking has just not been up to par this season. There have clearly been a litany of factors as to why the run game has been poor for the Colts but at the end of the day, the run blocking has to get better. This game against the Titans was a great start to turning that around.
This was a great example of the improved run blocking. Nelson and Kelly pave the way with an excellent combo block on the one technique on the interior. They are able to drive the defensive tackle off the ball and create a huge lane on the interior for Hines to pick up positive yards. This was such an easy run where Hines just had to put his head down and barrel forward for a quick eight yards.
Ryan Kelly and Quenton Nelson combo blocking the 1-Tech out of the way for a huge lane for Hines up the middle pic.twitter.com/Fbn9ON2aoY— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 15, 2020
This next clip truly shows the dominance up front. The Colts are in 13 personnel which means they have three tight ends in the formation. It is essentially a jumbo package and the Titans know the run is coming here. It doesn’t even matter though as the Colts are able to drive the defense off the ball and allow time for Hines to hesitate in the backfield and eventually find his exit lane to the left for the big gain. This was the type of dominance we expected coming into the year and it was great to see it on display in a Prime Time game on Thursday.
This is great patience by Hines but look at the line up front. All 8 guys winning their blocks and driving off the ball. This allows for Hines to patiently find his exit lane from the backfield pic.twitter.com/jnqNLWATmd— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 15, 2020
Feed Him in Space
Hines is a track athlete who is gifted return man as well (which is evident by his two punt return touchdowns last season). The Colts would be wise to do whatever they can to get him the ball in space going forward. This is now the third year we have seen him create with the ball in his hand and make things happen for this offense. Here he takes the screen pass and gets up field for a nice gain. More of this going forward please.
Getting the ball to Hines in space has always been a great idea. The Colts have been excellent at setting up screens this year. Something that Strausser really focused on this offseason pic.twitter.com/R7KAjMlsqo— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 15, 2020
Isolate Him vs LB’s in Space
With Hines’ background as a college wide receiver and his elite speed, there isn’t a linebacker in this league who can stay with him in space. The Colts have done a decent job of isolating him in these match-ups this season but can do even more in this department for the rest of the season.
He is isolated on this option route against a very good linebacker in Jayon Brown on this play. Hines is tasked with reading the linebacker’s leverage and determining if he should break inside or outside. He breaks Brown down and quickly cuts out as Philip Rivers hits him with a pass on the out route. He then turns the corner and finishes in the end zone. This is the type of ability Hines can bring to the passing game and the Colts need to continue to isolate him in these favorable match-ups.
An advantage of having a player like Hines is his route running and quickness. Jayon Brown is a really good LB but he can't stick with Hines on this option route. Easy TD pic.twitter.com/j1m0bqoyN9— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 15, 2020
Nyheim Hines is the best overall playmaker in this Colts’ offense (with Parris Campbell out for the season). He is an elite athlete who is a mismatch nightmare for linebackers and when he is able to get out into space. When the Colts’ offense is clicking, it usually involves Hines in some capacity.
For the Colts to keep pace with some of these offenses they will be facing in this final stretch of the season, Hines will have to be heavily involved. There may be some high scoring games in the near future and the Colts need all of their playmakers to step up in these games. Hines is a vital piece to this offense who needs to be fed the ball.