Who Steps Up For Colts With T.Y. Hilton Out?
Phillip B. Wilson
The Indianapolis Colts’ depth will again be put to the test not just on Sunday at Pittsburgh but possibly for the next month.
Four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton could miss that much time with a calf injury, which is a huge blow to an offense that has relied more on Hilton than anyone else in the passing game.
Consider that quarterback Jacoby Brissett has targeted Hilton on 46 pass plays with 32 receptions for 360 yards and five TDs. And Hilton has missed one game. The rest of the pass catchers combined have 63 targets with 37 receptions for 462 yards and five TDs.
Since Hilton was drafted in 2012, the Colts are 0-5 without him in the lineup. So when the Colts (5-2) visit Heinz Field to take on the Steelers (3-4), this will be the first of several games where the Brissett passing game will be forced to undergo a makeover.
No. 2 wide receiver Zach Pascal has emerged as a reliable option with 14 receptions for 245 yards and three TDs. But it’s asking a lot for an overachieving No. 2 option to become the go-to guy as a No. 1.
Expect more work for tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, for sure, but you’re never quite sure what to expect from Ebron, who has had one dominant game this season but also dropped too many passes. Doyle is steady on shorter routes and moving the chains, but the Steelers will be mindful of both.
That means somebody else has to step up. Specifically, how will the Colts stretch the Steelers defense with deep speed? Without it, the Steelers can crowd the box, which means tougher sledding in the run game.
Rookie Parris Campbell and second-year pro Deon Cain have the speed to get deep and force the Steelers to play more honest on the back line. But neither have been consistent — Campbell is coming off an abdominal injury that required surgery and he has yet to catch a pass since his return one game ago. The second-round pick has 10 catches for 62 yards and one TD.
Cain is probably the more unknown with four catches for 52 yards. He’s been largely overlooked, although he did draw a couple of pass-interference penalties on deep balls. But make no mistake, like Campbell, he has the speed the Colts need to stretch the field.
Not having Hilton puts more of the onus on Brissett to make smarter decisions when he throws because the Steelers are mindful of where he’s looking to throw. They will be focused on Ebron and Doyle, most likely, which means Campbell and Cain will draw single coverage and must win those matchups and get open.
If they succeed, the Colts should be able to have more balance and not just rely on running the football, which has been difficult the past two games with both the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos stuffing that box to force Brissett to throw.
The Colts lead the AFC South Division and are currently the No. 2 seed after three consecutive wins, so they have a lot to play for against the Steelers.
But this next game is about the bigger picture. How will the Colts adjust without Hilton?
It’s a question that won’t be answered in only one week. The longer Hilton is out, the more that question lingers as the Colts try to prove they can keep winning without their best weapon.