Much like Tom Brady, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has had to deal with an injury to his top pass-catching option for most of this season. Neither New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski nor Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne will be on the field this Saturday night, as each is on injured reserve (coincidentally, both suffered ACL tears this season).
It’s been a collective effort for both teams to pick up the production lost from their superstar offensive weapons, and one player for the Colts has particularly emerged in Wayne’s absence: Second-year wideout T.Y. Hilton.
Hilton exploded for 13 catches, 224 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday against Kansas City, and he’s expected to be an area of focus for the Patriots this Saturday as well.
On Monday, head coach Bill Belichick dug deeper on what makes Hilton such a potent player.
“He’s fast, he’s quick, he’s got very good ball skills,” Belichick said, as it’s worth noting that Hilton blazed to a 4.34 forty in the pre-draft process. “He draws, I would say, a lot of defensive penalties too because of his quickness and his ability to separate. I’m not saying they all get called, but he has some defensive penalties as well as all the yards he’s got catching the ball. He’s good after the catch.”
Given Hilton’s production and ability, one question leading up to the game is whether the Patriots will use top cornerback Aqib Talib to shadow Hilton, as Talib has often been tasked with guarding the opposing team’s top player in man coverage.
Belichick was asked on Monday about how other teams have opted to cover Hilton in Wayne’s absence, and whether he’s noticed Hilton drawing a single cornerback or a variety of looks.
“I think each team has kind of had their own way of doing things, depending on what their personnel was and their scheme,” he said. “It looks like some teams paid more attention to him; other teams did what they would normally do, like Kansas City. We’ll look at all the games and all the teams that have played them and obviously take a note of the things that worked well, the things that didn’t, but we may or may not be able to do those things based on what we have and what we do."
The Patriots have seen both Luck and Hilton once before, as the two teams faced off last November in a regular season game. That was Talib’s debut (a game in which he returned an interception for a score), and his role has changed -- and grown -- since that time.
Hilton totaled 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns that day, and be it with Talib following him or otherwise, that’s a performance the Patriots hope to prevent this Saturday.