Colts Andrew Luck now truly in the spotlight

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the NFL limelight, Andrew.

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is a stud.

We knew this last year when his play propelled a very flawed 2012 Indianapolis roster to an 11-5 record and an unexpected postseason berth.

To put into perspective just how much of an impact Luck had on Indy's win-loss total last year, the 2012 defense for the Colts was ranked 29th in the entire NFL against the run, surrendered 24.6 points-per-game, and was ranked 30th overall in turnovers. The 2011 defense, which played a major part in the Colts starting that season 0-13, was nearly identical in terms of stats. 29th ranked run defense, 26.8 ppg surrendered, and ranked 30th overall in turnovers.

Both virtually identical in their ineptness.

The major difference between 2-14 and 11-5 was No. 12.

With Curtis Painter, Kerry Collins, and Dan Orlovsky tossing the rock for Indy in 2011, the Colts offense puttered to a 28th overall ranking in terms of points scored. They averaged - AVERAGED - a truly puke-inducing 15.2 ppg.

To be fair to Dan Orlovsky, the man with the thankless task of taking over a then-winless Colts team who were staring a possible 0-16 season in the face (which would have been the second time in Orlovsky's career that he'd experienced such a season), Indy did average 23.5 ppg after he assumed the starting job over Curtis Painter. It was Orlovsky who captained the offense to two wins in four starts, and it was Orlovsky who threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne in the closing moments of the 4th quarter to beat the Texans in Week 16.

Personally, I've never liked lumping Orlovsky in with the other two quarterbacks responsible for the crap factory that was the 2011 season. Had Orlovsky started Week One and not been released to make room for the geriatric Kerry Collins - a mistake that likely was the final straw for owner Jim Irsay's patience with the arrogance of the Polian Regime - the Colts probably would have scraped by with 6-8 wins.

Of course, if that had happened, Andrew Luck would probably be in St. Louis right now, or perhaps maybe Washington.

Speaking of Washington, remember the whole "Robert Griffin III is better than Andrew Luck" talk? Remember Inside the NFL analyst Phil Simms questioning Luck's arm strength prior to the 2012 NFL Draft? Yeah, me too. Vintage comedy.

When Luck was drafted and thrust into the starting quarterback role, he was playing in an offense totally new from the one he'd dominated the PAC-12 with at Stanford. Then-offensive coordinator Bruce Arians wanted to push the football down the field. "Chunk yardage" was term used almost as much as "ChuckStrong" in 2012. The results were impressive:

The Colts scored 22.3 ppg, up from the 2011 season average of 15.2. They ranked 7th in passing offense, up from 27th in 2011.

However, more important than any traditional stat, the Colts found ways to win close games with Luck under center, and, more often than not, Luck was the reason the team squeaked out so many close ones in 2012.

Luck set an NFL record as a rookie by quarterbacking 7 game-winning drives in 2012, as researched by current Football Outsiders scribe Scott Kacsmar. Arguably his most dramatic was the 14-yard touchdown catch that Donnie Avery grabbed and ran in for the winning score on 4th down with no time left in the 4th quarter to defeat the Detroit Lions in Week 13.

Luck also set rookie records for passing attempts, completions, and yards in a season. He had the most yards in one game by a rookie QB (433) in a Week 9 win over the Dolphins. Unfortunately, Luck lost the Offensive Rookie of the Year award to Griffin. I still view that as media pack mentality voting rather than objective analysis. But, that's just me.

This season, Luck is back playing in his old Stanford offense, working with his old college coordinator, Pep Hamilton. The results are a higher completion percentage (62%) and a nearly exact yards-per-completion stat (7.3) to the one he had playing in Arians' "chunk yardage" offense (7.0).

More importantly, Luck simply looks better. Smarter. More confident. That's pretty scary for the rest of the league, because Luck was about as impressive as one can get as a rookie last season.

For Monday Night Football, a sizable chunk of the TV-viewing population will get their first real look at Andrew Luck when he and the Colts travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers (2-3). This is their chance to see what many of us have the pleasure to witness every Sunday. Regardless of the outcome, it is obvious that Luck has improved, and, by extension, so have the Colts. This team is no longer the scrappy "YOU CAN DO IT" team that sneaked-up on opponents last season. This Colts squad is capable of beating anyone, anywhere, anytime, and in a variety of ways.

Chief among those ways is with their young quarterback, who is continuing to prove that he is indeed as good as advertised.

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