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NFL Draft

Why Has Tyreek Hill Been So Boom or Bust This Season?

  • The Draft Network
  • October 5, 2021
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If you have Tyreek Hill on your fantasy team, congratulations on your win this week! If you’re like me though, you’re probably wondering why Hill had such an incredible game on Sunday after two weeks of low production against the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers.

In Weeks 2 and 3, Hill had a combined total of eight receptions on 11 targets, 70 yards, and no touchdowns. The fifth-year receiver’s 14 yards on three catches against Baltimore was the third-least productive—second-least if you take out a 2019 game he departed with an injury—start of his career, in terms of yards. His 56-yard game against the Chargers is also in the bottom 20 of any start. On the flip side, Hill’s performances in Week 1 against Cleveland and Week 4 in Philadelphia saw him tally the third- and fourth-highest yardage counts of his career, with 197 and 186, respectively. What’s gone well for opposing defenses has gone really well, and what’s gone wrong for them has gone, well, really wrong.

Let’s start with how teams like the Ravens and Chargers have managed to keep one of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL in check.

In Week 2, Baltimore made it their mission to keep Hill locked down and prevent any of the big, explosive plays this Chiefs offense has become known for. In coverage, the Ravens would use their safeties as double-team defenders that would sniff out Hills on any deep routes before worrying about the rest of their zone assignment or giving help to cover other receivers deep downfield. With this strategy, the Ravens were essentially telling the Chiefs that they were fine giving up short, nickel-and-dime passes, but they weren’t going to get beat by Hill. It worked well for the most part, with the one exception being a long touchdown throw to Demarcus Robinson, who was able to beat Marlon Humphrey and stay open with the safety cheating toward Hill. Otherwise, a vast majority of Patrick Mahomes’ pass attempts were under 10 yards, and his favorite target couldn’t even surpass 15 yards on the day.

The Chargers employed a similar strategy, always having their safeties deep and watching out for Hill on his specialty: a streaking diagonal route across the field. Kansas City countered by having their receiver run more double-move routes, where Hill would start off the line running inside before cutting back out for a catch and running up the sideline. Still, Los Angeles’ secondary didn’t allow any explosive plays from him. Throughout the game, their carefulness and awareness of the Chiefs’ quick receiver left tight end Travis Kelce open more often on short routes up the middle of the field, but their lockdown coverage on the outside and deep was enough to keep Hill under 60 receiving yards. Both the Ravens and Chargers won by preventing one of the NFL’s best receivers from getting open in space.

So, if constant double teams worked for Baltimore and L.A., what happened with the Browns and Eagles?

Basically, Cleveland and Philly just… didn’t really do that. On pretty much every one of his big plays, Hill found himself alone after beating the one man on him in coverage. Sometimes it would be because the opposition would drop just one safety deep, leaving him open up the sideline, beating a cornerback playing with inside leverage. Other times it would be because Hill would line up as the innermost receiver in a trips formation, leaving a linebacker to cover him with a nickel and a corner on the outer receivers. Still other times, a corner or safety lined up on him with outside leverage, leaving him nothing but grass on the inside, and Hill would just have to beat them to a spot. With his speed, he usually did. And many times, Hill would be open because he and Kelce would end up on the same side of the field and defenders wouldn’t know who to cover more tightly.

If teams are willing to allow themselves to get beat on short dink-and-dimes—often to Kelce—up the field, they’ll be able to shut down Hill and his explosive plays deep downfield. The Ravens and Chargers both found success against him—along with wins, which don’t hurt—by constantly dropping two safeties back with one serving as a kind of “Hill spy.” Whether other Kansas City opponents will continue to do so, or whether they’ll instead try—emphasis on try—to win one-on-one matchups with the fastest, most explosive receiver in the NFL (like the Eagles) remains to be seen. We’ll probably get a good idea next Sunday as the 2-2 Chiefs welcome the 3-1 Buffalo Bills, whose passing defense has allowed the fewest passing yards per game through four weeks.

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