Colts’ notebook: T.Y. Hilton ‘poison’ to Titans
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Two strikingly dissimilar stat lines from the Indianapolis Colts’ 38-10 dismantling of the Tennessee Titans told the story of Frank Reich’s diverse offense.
There was Eric Ebron’s: zero targets. He entered Sunday with a career-high nine touchdown catches, second in the NFL to Antonio Brown’s 10.
And then there was T.Y. Hilton’s: nine targets, nine receptions, 155 yards, two TDs. In his previous three games, the Colts’ four-time Pro Bowl wideout had just eight catches on 16 targets for 136 yards and two TDs.
Ebron and Hilton were Exhibits A and B for the ol’ pick-your-poison dilemma created by Reich’s offensive scheme.
“You knew what T.Y. was,’’ Ebron said. “All it took was for one of us to establish that we were a threat and we moved coverage off T.Y. That’s what happened today and T.Y. was able to get back to his old ways.
“I’m happy T.Y. was able to have his day. Let’s get back to Erbon next week.’’
Ebron laughed, but this was no laughing matter to a Titans defense that entered the game ranked No. 6 in total yards allowed and No. 1 in scoring.
They opted to take Ebron out of the game with frequent double-teams. They opted to give Hilton single coverage, often with Adoree’ Jackson.
They paid the price.
“You’ve got to pick your poison with us,’’ Hilton said, echoing Ebron. “Most of the games they come in and take me out of the game. That’s fine for the other guys.
“They didn’t do that. They felt comfortable with their cornerback sticking me and they allowed him to play one-on-one coverage and they had to deal with that.’’
The game’s back-breaking play might have occurred in the second quarter. The Colts led 10-0 and faced a first-and-10 at their own 32. Hilton was lined up wide to the right. Jackson had him one-on-one.
Hilton beat Jackson on a deep post, gathered in Andrew Luck’s perfectly-thrown pass and completed a 68-yard TD. Just like that, it was Colts 17-0.
“This was a classic T.Y. game and it’s fun to be a part of it,’’ Luck said. “He’s special, man. He’s so unassuming. He just does things very, very well. It’s fun to throw him the ball.
“Shoot, you need explosive plays as an offense.’’
Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni have been cautious not to force the football to Hilton, but Sirianni conceded last week the Colts needed to get more out of him.
“He’s our playmaker,’’ Sirianni said.
Reich admitted he and Sirianni “had a good feeling about this plan’’ with Hilton and the anticipated matchups.
“We had a lot of respect for their corners,’’ Reich said, “but all of us had a feeling T.Y. was going to have a big game and he delivered in a big-time way.’’
The 68-yard TD was a nice reminder of Hilton’s big-play talents. His first four TD catches this season were a combined 13 yards. The 68-yarder was the sixth-longest of Hilton’s career and the ninth of at least 61 yards.
The ‘Ebron Special’
Leave it to Reich to try and add even more excitement to an entertaining afternoon.
With the Colts up 7-0 and facing a third-and-goal at the Titans 4-yard line early in the second quarter, he decided to have Ebron attempt the first pass of his career. His intended target: Luck.
“That’s the same play you’ve seen the Patriots run a couple of times,’’ Reich said. “It’s kind of in the Philly Special world as well. Those kind of plays work against man coverage . . . they adjusted pretty quickly.’’
What was the play called?
“The Ebron Special,’’ Ebron said with hearty laugh.
Working out of the shotgun, Luck pitched the football to running back Nyheim Hines, who was running to the left. Hines pitched it to Ebron, who was in motion to the right. Ebron floated a pass to Luck, who had flowed out of the backfield to the right. Luck made a diving attempt, but the pass was a tad too far.
“It was a good spot. It was safe,’’ Luck said. “We told him ‘Eat it’ if it wasn’t there, put it in a safe spot.
“I gave it my best effort. I’ll retire as a wide receiver from here on out.’’
“I (messed) it up,’’ Ebron said. “I’m going to take the blame because that’s what the quarterback does. I was the quarterback, so I messed it up.’’
Ebron is one of the most out-going personalities on the team. He was asked how he would have responded had he added a TD pass to the nine TD catches and one rushing TDs he’s notched in his first year with the Colts.
“If that was a touchdown pass, y’all don’t want to know,’’ he said.
Added Reich: “Maybe the Lord was having mercy on us.’’
Defense rises up
The challenge came from within, and was answered.
The Titans brought the NFL’s No. 10-ranked defense to town. It had allowed the fewest points in the league, and was coming off a 34-10 win at the expense of New England and Tom Brady.
“The challenge to our defense was, ‘Let’s show who’s the best defense today,’’’ Reich said. “That’s all that matters, just today.
“Our defense showed they were the best defense on the field.’’
Tennessee was limited to 263 total yards, and 94 came in the closing minutes. The Colts used more blitzes than normal, and came away with five sacks of Marcus Mariota and backup Blaine Gabbert. Indy had just four sacks in the previous four games.
“Man, I just thought Matt (Eberflus, defensive coordinator) called a great game and the guys were feeding off of it,’’ Reich said.
The Colts continued their streak of having at least one takeaway in every game this season with interceptions from Quincy Wilson and Darius Leonard.
Record for O-line
Luck’s pass protection remained impeccable. The Colts’ offensive line set a franchise record for not allowing a sack in five straight games. It’s tied for the third-longest streak in the NFL since 1982, tying the 2010 New York Giants and 2008 Titans.
Also, Luck has attempted a personal-best 214 passes without being sacked.
Center Ryan Kelly left the game with a knee injury in the fourth quarter and did not return. He was replaced by Evan Boehm.
Defensive lineman Margus Hunt did not return in the second half after suffering a knee injury in the first half.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.