Colts’ Hilton says offense must ‘start taking shots down the field’

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T.Y. Hilton

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 22, 2015) – In what has regressed into a lost season, T.Y. Hilton believes the Indianapolis Colts offense has lost its way because it has lost its identity.

No longer does it take its shots down the field. Through 14 games, The Ghost – a nickname affixed by coach Chuck Pagano last season as Hilton continued to disappear behind secondaries – believes the team hasn’t made the best use of the personnel in the receivers’ room or the playbook.

When the Colts visit Miami Sunday, they’ll take with them a pass offense that ranks – brace yourself – No. 19 in yards per game (238.3) and an alarming 31st in yards per attempt (6.4).

“We’re not really using us,” Hilton said Tuesday. “You know, Donte (Moncrief), me, Phil (Dorsett), we’re fast guys and we’re not going down the field how we’re supposed to be doing.”

Instead, receivers generally have been running routes that cut off at the first-down marker.

“‘Stick route, chain routes,’’’ Hilton said. “We can do that, but at some point in time you’ve got to take your shot to get the defense going back.

“The throws have been there, but we just haven’t been calling (them). We’ve just got to start taking shots down the field and loosen the defense up some.”

A year ago with Andrew Luck starting all 16 games, the Colts’ pass offense ranked No. 1 in yards per game (305.9) and tied for sixth in yards per attempt (7.7). Luck delivered 73 passes that gained at least 20 yards, best in the NFL.

Hilton earned his first Pro Bowl appearance last season with 1,345 yards and seven touchdowns, and his highlights included 21 receptions of at least 20 yards. Five of his TDs covered at least 28 yards.

He’s made occasional noise this season – 16.7 yards per catch, second in the league among players with at least 50 catches – but the receivers group as a whole has only 43.

Bombs away has given way to dink-and-dunk, in large part out of necessity.

Injuries to Luck and backup Matt Hasselbeck certainly have contributed to the restrictive passing game, but it must be noted Luck wasn’t going deep that often before he injured his right shoulder. His 6.4 yards per attempt in seven games would be a career low (6.7 in ’13).

Also, the offensive line has had protection issues from the outset. That limited offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s ability to use the deep-threat section of his playbook before he was fired Nov. 3, and has continued to narrow successor Rob Chudzinski’s options.

The ineffective protection has resulted in Chudzinski relying on more short drops and quick throws, but Hasselbeck still has taken a beating. He’s been knocked out of the last three games with neck, rib, shoulder and jaw issues.

A return to a more vertical passing game, if the protection allows, would benefit the entire offense, according to Hilton. Yards after the catch also have been rare.

Defenders, he said, are “just sitting at the chains and waiting for us to break, and they’re breaking, too. Right now we’ve just got to start taking shots, no matter what. Take some shots early and often and that’ll loosen up the defense and get us open.”

It also would help a running game that is tied for No. 29 in yards per game (86.5) and No. 31 in yards per attempt (3.6). With little fear of being beaten deep, defenses are crowding the line of scrimmage.

“Instead of it being six, seven, eight in the box, it’s all 11,” Hilton said. “They’re all just waiting to tee-off.”

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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