INDIANAPOLIS – Evidently, the football gods aren’t done with the Indianapolis Colts yet.
On Friday, head coach Frank Reich announced wide receiver T.Y. Hilton will miss approximately three to four weeks with a non-contact calf injury.
The injury occurred during Wednesday’s practice, and Hilton wasn’t a participant on Thursday or Friday. Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers will be the second time the four-time Pro Bowler has been forced to the sideline this year.
Hilton also missed the 31-24 loss against the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 29.
“You struggle for a little bit, but what you learn is it’s a great opportunity to learn you’ve got depth on your roster and you’ve got confidence in your players,” Reich said. “They’ve got to step up, and nobody has to press. That’s the good thing.
“Nobody has to press. Nobody has to come in and try and be the hero in his absence. You’ve just got to play good football. We’ve just got to play good football, and I think that’s what we learned last year.”
The Colts are 0-5 all time without Hilton in the lineup, that includes losses last season on the road against the New England Patriots and the New York Jets.
In this year’s loss to the Raiders, the offense got off to a slow start but rebounded well. Jacoby Brissett was 24-of-46 for 265 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, and Zach Pascal led the receiving corps with four catches for 72 yards.
The major obstacle came in the run game, where Marlon Mack was limited to 39 yards on 11 carries.
That’s one area Indianapolis hopes to improve and alleviate some of the pressure on the passing game Sunday.
“We make no secret about the fact that we want to run it,” Reich said. “The more we can run it, the better. This is a very stout (Steelers) run defense. So, optimally, for me – you guys know, I have probably mentioned it a few times now – is I want to run it a lot, but the optimal game to keep everybody involved is you go get 125-150 yards rushing and 250 to 250-plus passing so you are in that 400-yard range.
“That’s a good offensive day in the NFL. Now going on the road in Pittsburgh, that’s a tough challenge against a very good defense, but that’s kind of the mindset going in.”
The passing yards likely will be spread around.
Pascal is the only receiver with a 100-yard game this year, topping the century mark two weeks ago during a 30-23 win against the Houston Texans. And he is certain to be called upon frequently in Hilton’s absence.
Tight end Eric Ebron also is capable of making big plays. He had three dropped passes against Oakland and admitted he might have been pressing too much. But he bounced back with a strong performance against the Texans and can provide a big target for Brissett.
The Colts also need some young players to step forward.
Rookie wide receiver Parris Campbell returned from an abdominal injury last week against the Denver Broncos but was targeted just once. Reich said there were some other elements in the game plan designed for Campbell that never quite materialized on game day.
Deon Cain also has an opportunity to raise his stock a week after being a healthy scratch.
If there is a silver lining, Indianapolis has plenty of experience covering for missing starters this year.
Andrew Luck, of course, retired two weeks before the start of the regular season. No. 2 wide receiver Devin Funchess has been out with a broken clavicle since Week 2, and the defensive backfield has been missing at least one starter in each of the past three weeks.
So Reich feels like the locker room has the right mindset to handle its latest setback.
“I am not only confident, I am excited,” he said. “Obviously not for T.Y. We are obviously losing a great player. But I am really excited for our guys. We’ve seen it.
“We’ve seen Zach step up. Parris is now healthy. He will get some more reps. It’s probable that Deon will be up – get him back in the mix. So to take a spot from T.Y., it’s kind of by committee. We will spread it around. I am excited for these guys. I really am. I am genuinely excited, and we know T.Y. is T.Y. He will heal as fast as anybody can possibly heal, and then we will get him ready to go.”
In addition to Hilton’s absence, cornerback Pierre Desir (hamstring) is doubtful for Sunday’s game. Desir did not participate in practice this week after missing last week’s win against the Broncos.
Safety Malik Hooker (knee) and defensive end Justin Houston (calf) are questionable. Neither practiced Friday.
Pittsburgh is dealing with plenty of injuries of its own.
Offensive lineman Ramon Foster (concussion) and backup running back Benny Snell Jr. (knee) have been ruled out.
Starting running back James Conner (shoulder) is doubtful, and fullback Roosevelt Nix (knee) is questionable.