T.Y. Hilton accounts for about a quarter of Andrew Luck’s targets this season, but double that when the Colts are in desperation mode.
Hilton caught a 35-yard touchdown in last Sunday’s fourth quarter, giving the Colts life in a critical division matchup with the Texans. Luck turned his way on three of his six throws during the final drive of their 22-17 loss.
The Luck-Hilton combination brings the biggest punch to U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, where both the Vikings (7-6) and Colts (6-7) claw to keep playoff hopes alive.
And it could come down to two of the shortest guys on the field.
Vikings slot cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, Hilton’s equal at five feet and nine inches, should be expecting to see a lot of Hilton, the Colts dynamic receiver who lines up all over the field but generally in the slot of their three-receiver sets.
“We’ll have our work cut out for us in the slot,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said this week. “We’ll have to do some things to take away some of the progressions they’re trying to accomplish over there.”
Hilton gets his yardage in a variety of ways. He trails only Julio Jones for the NFL’s lead with 1,203 receiving yards and is sixth in targets (127). Hilton averages more than 15 yards per catch for an offense that likes to take shots down the field, specifically to the smooth route runner.
Munnerlyn, meanwhile, is enjoying perhaps his best season in Year 3 with the Vikings. The 28-year-old corner is a pending free agent who has likely earned himself a solid payday this spring by holding down the slot of the league’s No. 2 scoring defense — one allowing the fewest 20-yard passes this side of the Denver Broncos.
Hilton leads the league with 24 grabs of at least 20 yards.
One overriding component to Sunday’s game could be the Vikings’ pass rush, which is set up well against the Colts offensive line. Right tackle Joe Reitz (back) has not been able to practice yet this week. Indy just lost left guard Jack Mewhort (knee) to injured reserve and they’re already starting two rookies in first-round center Ryan Kelly and NDSU product Joe Haeg at right guard.
Only the Bills and Browns have allowed more sacks than the Colts (40) this season. That could limit Hilton’s vertical threat against a Vikings secondary that likely will be without safety Harrison Smith (ankle) and cornerback Trae Waynes (concussion), but Hilton’s quickness can still hurt you.
Trailing 22-17 in Sunday’s fourth quarter, Luck went at Hilton right away on a simple crossing route for 14 yards. Those kinds of quicker routes, made easier by Hilton’s excellent speed, might be commonplace against the Vikings’ pass rush.
When watching the clip below, keep in mind Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson (No. 25) is 28 and ran a 4.48 at the combine six years ago. He’s lined up across from Hilton in the slot.
Hilton has been one of the league’s better route runners for a few years. On this fourth-quarter play below, Hilton is lined up as a flanker at the top of the screen. He’s able to put a double move on cornerback Robert Nelson and fight through the pass interference for a breezy 35-yard score.