Joe Haden vs. T.Y. Hilton: 6 receptions, 99 yards, 2 TDs

Joe Haden allowed 6 receptions on 8 targets for 99 yards and 2 TDs versus T.Y. Hilton. Based solely on these statistics one would assume that Haden did not perform well facing the Colts’ top wide receiver, but in fact Haden was dynamic all afternoon and had one of the best games of his career. This post will breakdown Haden’s plays.

Stats – 6 receptions allowed on 13 targets for 99 yards and 2 touchdowns, and 2 passes defensed

Haden rotated between the Colts plethora of wide receivers and tight ends, but he mostly played against the Colts top receiver T.Y. Hilton.

Play 1
Situation: 2nd and 10 at IND 32
Description: Q1 – (3:23) (Short right to D.Herron to IND 35 for 3 yards (D.Whitner; B.Winn).

In play 1, WR13 Hilton is in twin stacks right against Hilton running a post route. Haden stays with the speedy wide receiver for the entire route. Haden initially jumps to the inside expecting Hilton to run a shallow crossing route, but he recovers immediately to blanket him up the field.

Play 10
Situation: 1st and 10 at CLE 39
Description: Q2 – (7:28) A.Luck pass short left to D.Herron to CLV 13 for 26 yards (C.Kirksey).

Haden is in man-to-man coverage on the right outside. Hilton runs an out-and-up route. This is Luck’s first read on the play from singleback formation.

Hilton runs his route and Luck finds Hilton hoping that Haden gets beat by the double move to the outsid, but instead Haden covers it perfectly and doesn’t allow separation so Luck passes it to RB36 Herron on the checkdown from the backfield.

Play 18
Situation: 3rd and 10 at CLE 42
Description: Q3 – (4:09) T.Y. Hilton 42 Yd pass from Andrew Luck (Two-Point Pass Conversion Failed)

This is Hilton’s long TD of the day. This is the only play of the game where Haden gets seriously beaten by Hilton’s route-running. Here is the broadcast view of the play:

In this play, immediately off of the snap Hilton takes a big step inside and then immediately cuts outside to start his go-route. This sudden change in direction is what causes Haden to trip backwards. An amazing move by Hilton. The speed of it was incredible.

Hilton throws his hand up à la Randy Moss-Darrelle Revis to signal to Luck that he is open and he wants the ball.

Haden almost completely, but can’t turn his body around to locate the ball in time for Hilton. Luck places this ball perfectly inside the beaten cornerback for Hilton to make an uncontested catch. Good adjustment on Hilton’s part.

Then Hilton cuts inside avoiding FS33 Poyer’s tackle and then attempted tackle by Haden to stop the touchdown. Amazing route by Hilton that caused this touchdown. This was Haden’s one blemish on the day that most critics will look at this play and project that he played horribly for the rest of the game, which is simply not true.

Edit: Some readers have questioned the “perfect throw” and that a deep pass would have worked better than the underthrown pass.

In my opinion, it IS a perfect throw because it’s the only throw that would have resulted in a TD. Traditionally, if a CB is beat off of the line a deep throw in stride is an automatic touchdown but Haden is ridiculously fast and overcommits to chasing down Hilton. A long ball would have left Haden with a chance to deflect the ball or make an instant tackle on Hilton, while an underthrown ball is the only ball guaranteed to be a touchdown. Hilton is the only person able to make a play on the ball now due to this. Since Haden overcommits to the run he sprints past Hilton and then attempts to make the tackle near the goalline.

Play 23
Situation: 1st and 10 at IND 24
Description: Q4 – (8:29) A.Luck pass short middle to T.Hilton to CLV 43 for 33 yards (J.Haden).

Haden is in man-to-man coverage on Hilton on the right side of the formation. Hilton runs a slant route over the middle while TE80 Fleener runs a quick out route to the right side. This is what causes Hilton to become wide-open over the middle.

The congestion of LB53 Robertson covering Fleener tightly, SS30 Leonhard pursuing TE83 Allen to the flat, and Haden trying to find Hilton creates a mess of bodies.

Haden escapes the pack of bodies and chases down Hilton for the large gain on the play. You can’t really fault Haden on this play. The Colts offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton, gets the credit here for the play call. Just unfortunate this looks like a blemish to Haden’s great game.

Play 26
Situation: 1st and 10 at IND 10
Description: Q4 – (3:46) (Shotgun) A.Luck sacked at IND 6 for -4 yards (B.Mingo).

In play 26, the Colts run a pick play with Hilton and WR10 Moncrief. Moncrief is in the right outside WR position while Hilton is the slot. Immediately after the snap, Moncrief jumps out to get in the path of Haden.

This is a clear pick play, but it’s designed where the Colts could argue that it’s a quick spot route for Moncrief against off-man coverage. Haden fights through the pick to cover Hilton tightly. Shortly after, Luck is sacked by Mingo beating RB36 Herron’s chop block.

Play 33
Situation: 1st and 1 at CLE 1
Description: Q4 – (:36) (Shotgun) A.Luck pass short left to T.Hilton for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.

This is the second TD Hilton catches against the Browns. Haden is in man-to-man coverage against Hilton in the left slot. WR87 Wayne is on left outside. Wayne runs a slant route and Hilton runs a flat route to to the left.

This is an intentional route design by the Colts that is good against man-to-man coverage. wayne right off the line aims for the same spot Haden is occupying, while Hilton does the same thing with Wayne’s CB22 Skrine. The Colts would not have two quick crossing routes in the endzone unless it’s on purpose.

If the Browns were in zone coverage ths play would not have worked as Haden and Skrine would not have crossed paths and neither wide receiver would have gotten open. Great play design by the Colts to take advantage of the man-to-man coverage played by the Browns.

Here are a few more plays of Hilton showing great coverage against Hilton in plays 3, 7, and 12.

Play 3 – Haden stays tightly in man-to-man coverage on Hilton’s stop-and-go route.

Play 7 – Haden breaks up a deep pass to Hilton in man-to-man coverage.

Play 12 – Haden covers Hilton in tight man-to-man coverage on the crossing route.

Outside of Hilton, Haden also covered Wayne for a number of plays where CB22 Skrine took over the man-to-man coverage responsibilities of Hilton. Here are a few plays with Haden covering Wayne in plays

Play 20 – Wayne from the left slot runs an out route that’s perfectly covered by Haden in man-to-man coverage.

Play 21 – Wayne from the trips slot left runs a post route that’s blanket covered by Haden in man-to-man coverage.

As you can see, outside of Play 18 where Hilton runs an incredible route, Haden does an amazing job sticking with Hilton and the other Colts’ wide receivers. His man-to-man technique combined with physical coverage and hip fluidity helps Haden make great plays all game.

Samuel Gold

Sam founded NFL Breakdowns after working his way through the journalist farm system and is enjoying life in the big league. Growing up outside of Washington, D.C., Sam didn’t choose the Redskins, the Redskins chose him. Out of a love for the game and an insatiable curiosity to determine why his beloved team was underperforming, Sam turned to studying film in NFL Breakdowns.