Aside from the Indianapolis Colts stalling in the red zone in Week 5, wearing out the leg of Adam Vinatieri, Andrew Luck and his receivers — specifically T.Y. Hilton — appeared to be on the same page right when it mattered most. The offensive line began to leak rather regularly, and as a result Luck was forced to move outside of the pocket to complete some critical passes.
The second half has been Luck’s strong point in most of the first five weeks of the season, which has been widely noted, but a large share of Hilton’s production has come in the second half as well.
Twenty-seven of Hilton’s 35 receptions this season have come in the second half, as well as all three of his touchdowns. Similarly to Luck’s fourth quarter explosions, Hilton also has accumulated 214 (42.2 percent) of his receiving yards in the fourth quarter. This combination of Luck and Hilton has grown each season through natural progression, and most likely due in large part to the pre-snap process that Luck has become so proficient in dissecting.
This brings us to the most pivotal play in the Colts’ Week 5 win against the Chicago Bears.
With 3:51 left in the game, and the Colts trailing 19-23, Luck did his thing at the line of scrimmage solely to open up his most trusted deep threat. There’s no doubt that Luck had every intention to send the ball to the end zone, but he had to do a couple of things first.
As you can see, the Colts arrive to the line of scrimmage in a four-wide set. Out wide on the boundary side of the formation is Jack Doyle and Hilton in the slot, with Chester Rogers wide on the field side of the formation with Phillip Dorsett in the slot. In the face of a cover-2 look from the Bears’ safeties, Luck needs to determine what the coverage is on Hilton’s side of the field. Luck moves Doyle in, which brings the safety up indicating that he’s responsible for Doyle.
Additionally, Luck needs to assess the other side of the field as well, most importantly the front-seven and their ability to draw pressure against the Colts current alignment. Luck determines that the protection needs additional help, primarily on Willie Young, who has already notched three sacks for the Bears at this time. As a result, Luck calls down Dorsett which pulls him closer to the formation in order to chip Young in attempt to delay his ability to get past the right tackle.
As Luck snaps the ball, he sees the field side safety adhering to his “deepest” responsibilities, and throughout his progression that the underneath coverage from the linebackers bites on Dorsett on the short drag across the field. Luck then moves up to Doyle where he notices the other safety maintaining his “man” responsibility, following Doyle to the sideline, which allows Hilton a one-on-one opportunity against the cornerback.
With all of these aspects coming together perfectly, due in large part to the pre-snap setup that Luck orchestrated, the routes against the coverage is developing nicely. Now, despite Anthony Castanzo failing to hold up his end of the bargain in protection, Luck has just enough time to deliver a pinpoint throw to the end zone into the waiting arms of Hilton.
This is just one example of Luck’s prowess at the most important position in the game. This year, Luck is more accurate than he’s ever been, his partner in crime is beating multiple coverages using multiple route combinations at an alarming rate, and is resulting in the chemistry between the two growing game by game.
This Sunday, the Colts travel to play the Houston Texans in which this trip has been very good to the Colts in the past. Additionally, playing in Houston has not only been kind to Luck, who has averaged 275 yards through the air and has thrown eight touchdowns to only a single interception, but Hilton has dominated in Houston with 24 receptions for 510 total yards (21.25 yards per reception) and five touchdown catches. Houston may, again, have a problem this Sunday.