T.Y. Hilton is convinced the Indianapolis Colts have bogged down offensively during a three-game losing streak because they don’t take enough passing shots down the field.
“The throws have been there,” Hilton said Tuesday of the deeper pass plays, “but we just haven’t been calling it.”
That’s easy for a wide receiver to say, especially after he had just three catches for 29 yards in Sunday’s 16-10 home loss to the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. But Hilton wasn’t taking loud shots himself. He was merely answering the questions asked, in a calm tone, in regards to what he sees on the field.
Hilton’s observations are consistent with those shared by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who said after the game the Colts (6-8) needed to be more aggressive but put more of an emphasis on winning the turnover battle (both teams had two). A season-low 190 total yards represented the team's fewest total since 2011.
The Colts have scored just two offensive touchdowns in three games. When offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was fired and replaced with associate head coach Rob Chudzinski six games ago, the offense picked up with three consecutive wins. But the recent slide has the Colts 26th in total yards and 24th in points scored.
“We’re not really using us,” Hilton said of the team’s speedy receivers, including Donte Moncrief and rookie Phillip Dorsett. “Donte, me, Phil, you know we’re fast guys. We’re not going down the field, how we’re supposed to be doing.
“They’ve got us running stick routes and chain routes. We can do that, but at some point and time, you’ve got to take your shot to get the defense going back.”
Hilton reached his first Pro Bowl last season after catching 82 passes for 1,345 yards and seven touchdowns. The yardage was the highest of his four-year career, the catches and touchdowns equaling his previous best.
This season, he has 61 catches for 1,016 yards and five TDs. Not terrible numbers, especially given the offense's struggles, but he’ll likely fall short of the previous two years. And Sunday marked the fourth game he’s had three or fewer catches in a game.
Part of the problem is the Colts’ inability to protect quarterbacks, first Andrew Luck and now Hasselbeck. Both have suffered multiple injuries in their seven starts due to constant pressure and taking hits. Teams have blitzed more often and reduced the time to throw. The Colts have tried to counter that with shorter, quick-hit passes.
Problem is, as Hilton reminds, a defense figures that out and bunches up the box. Until an offense hits on deeper throws, there’s no reason for a defense to back off, wary of giving up a bigger play.
“Yeah, it’s tough because they’re just sitting at the sticks and waiting for us,” Hilton said. “Right now, we’ve got to start taking shots, no matter what.
“Not being able to take shots down the field, it kind of hurts all the receivers because the defense is just sitting at the sticks and just playing.”
In theory, deeper throws would open up running lanes for Frank Gore and ease the burden on Hasselbeck. Again, that’s in theory. The Colts’ run game has struggled all season and the team hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher in 54 consecutive games counting the playoffs.
When Hilton lines up, he sometimes sees all 11 defenders positions near the line of scrimmage. The Colts can expect to see more of the same when they visit the Miami Dolphins (5-9) Sunday.
“Now, instead of it being six, seven or eight in the box,” he said, “it’s all 11 because they’re all waiting to tee off.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.