The unfortunate reality that we must face is that, despite a record-breaking rookie season, Andrew Luck is probably not going to win the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. In fact, one could argue he isn't even a factor in a contest. Most fickle, national media types are suggesting the race is more between Seattle's Russell Wilson and Washington's Robert Griffin III.
But, it isn't just the traditional media that is in this mindset.
Recently, I helped SB Nation poll 28 of their 32 NFL team bloggers. Of that group, 15 picked Griffin, 8 picked Russell, and only 4 (including me) picked Luck. After last week's Sunday Night Football game, featuring a Seahawks 42-13 beatdown of the 49ers, some of the bloggers emailed the internal list group and said, "Can I change my vote to Wilson?"
THAT is how fickle this whole thing is.
Part of the reason Luck is unlikely to get serious consideration for RotY is the fact that few have watched him play. Like it or not, the perception is that national media types who vote on these sorts of awards often don't watch film or even full games. They base their votes on prime time games, or on games that are in the local market, or, worse yet, on highlights. Since most of the US sports media resides in DC and NYC, this means they've likely seen several Redskins games, primetime or otherwise. Seattle has played in three primetime games, going 2-1.
The three Colts games these same markets likely saw? The Jets game (a 35-9 blowout loss), the Patriots game (a 59-24 blowout loss) and the Thursday Night Football game against the Jaguars (a 27-10 win).
However, with NFL.com now offering everyone both the previous week's games and the All-22 coaches game tape, it really is unacceptable for anyone with a vote not to have seen the games. If you have watched them, it's clear (at least, to me) that Luck is ahead of Griffin and Wilson, who are still working out of gimmick college offenses designed to limit and protect them. Luck runs a pro-style offense (aka, no read option), and has had to endure more while also succeeding with less around him compared to Griffin or Wilson.
Please understand, I think RG3 and Wilson have had great seasons, and they absolutely should be in the RotY discussion. However, I think Luck should win because:
- He's better than both
- He's done more with less
- He's shattering the record books
Let's get into the details, shall we?
Here's a quick rundown of the records Luck is obliterating:
- Most yards in a season by a rookie with 4,183 (Newton, 4,051)
- Most attempts in a season by a rookie with 599 (Bradford, 593)
- Tied an NFL record for most game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime with 7. This broke the previous rookie record held by Ben Roethlisberger (5) in 2004.
- Most "wins" in a season by a rookie QB drafted No. 1 overall
Mind you, all this was done in 15 games. There's still one more to go.
Also, when you compare Luck's rookie year with Peyton Manning's in 1998, Luck looks superior.
Now, when you look at what Wilson and RG3 are doing, their season stats look great! However, not one of them is currently record-breaking. Wilson may break a significant record next week though. He is currently sitting at 25 touchdown passes. The NFL record for a rookie QB is 26, tossed by Peyton Manning in '98. If Wilson breaks that record - and it seems he will - that's a major accomplishment!
Note on Griffin: He may set the record for passer rating by a rookie with at least ten starts.
However, that's one record. Luck has several. Obviously, shattering records isn't the only criteria for award consideration, but it is a major factor. At least, it should be. If a person is dismissive of these records, then that person isn't someone who is effectively analyzing the candidates.
Records are important. If not, why keep them?
Carrying The Team
The reason the Colts are 10-5 and are heading to the playoffs is Andrew Luck. Nothing else. With RG3 and Wilson, one could make an argument that they are major cogs, but they aren't the reason. They play on teams with more talent and more experience.
This isn't surprising. Luck was drafted No. 1 overall, which means the team he went to was pretty horrible in 2011. That Colts team started out 0-13, and went on to only win only two games. Their entire roster was purged, remade, and retooled over a seven month period. Only 17 players remain from last year's 2011 squad. Of the starters on offense, only Reggie Wayne and second-year left tackle Anthony Castonzo are consistent holdovers from last year. Joe Reitz, a starter for 9 games at OG last year, and has been on and off the active roster all year, battling injuries. Among the starters on offense this season, five (including Luck) are rookies: Vick Ballard, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, and T.Y. Hilton. Rookie WR LaVon Brazill is also a significant contributor on offense.
Meanwhile, the Redskins posted a 5-11 season in 2011. Not good, but not abjectly terrible. Their roster isn't significantly turned over from last year either. They are mostly a veteran team with players like Josh Morgan, Fred Davis, and Santana Moss all making significant contributions. The team's biggest playmaker at the WR position, Pierre Garcon, is a former Colt who was signed in the offseason as a free agent.
Because the Redskins were not 2-14 bad in '11, they had to trade up to get Robert Griffin III. The only other rookie that starts with RG3 on offense is Alfred Morris, who has had a fantastic season running the ball. All other skill position players are veterans.
Seattle posted a 7-9 record last season, which is what they had the season before that. At slightly below .500, the Seahawks were already on the cusp of being a consistent playoff team before Wilson even showed up. Key contributors include veterans like Marshawn Lynch, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, and Zach Miller. All were on the Seahawks roster last year.
Keep in mind, Wilson was a 3rd round pick (75th player taken overall), and the coaching staff had no intention of playing him this year before training camp started. To Wilson's credit, he won over the coaches and absolutely deserves to start over the multi-milion dollar Matt Flynn. However, he was drafted onto an already better good team, unlike Luck who has had to carry a somewhat bad and inexperienced one. Wilson is also the only rookie who starts for Seattle at a skill position on offense. Impressive rookie back Robert Turbin does spot duty for Lynch.
So, even if someone wanted to make the argument that RG3 and Wilson are the reasons their respective teams are so much improved, then consider this: The Redskins can win (potentially) 10 games in 2012. RG3 missed Week 15 against the Browns, and he was hurt on the final (and eventually game-tying) regulation drive in Week 14 against the Ravens. Rookie back-up Kirk Cousins came in and QBed both those games. He also played exceedingly well. Thus, with those two wins taken away, RG3 has given the Redskins a +3 in the win column from last year to this year. Meanwhile, the Seahawks can win potentially 11 games this year. Wilson has started every game, which means he would give Seattle a +4.
Luck helped the Colts to +8, and it could be +9 if Indy dispatches Houston on Sunday.
The Running Game
Running the ball isn't as important as throwing it. However, when your running game is effective, it can take pressure off a rookie QB and, in many ways, inflate his stats. Both Wilson and RG3 are utilized in gimmick, college-style offenses that, while effective this season, likely will not have staying power going forward. We've seen this song and dance before, with coaches using similar systems to protect the inadequacies of players like Vince Young, Michael Vick, and Tim Tebow. It never works, not over the long haul.
These offenses help limit mistakes. It's not a bad idea, and certainly it isn't Wilson's or Griffin's fault that their respective coaches opted to put them in these systems. However, it tells you something about their skill level and mental grasp of the game. Contrast this with Luck, who has been running a pro-style offense with all the stops pulled out since training camp.
What also should be considered is how Griffin and Wilson are benefiting from outstanding running games. This goes along with the "carrying the team" meme. Both RG3 and Wilson have backs who have rushed for over 1,400 yards! The running game is the basis for both offensive attacks.
These teams don't throw, and when you look at these stats, you can see why:
- The Redskins are ranked 1st in the NFL in rushing using convention stats. They have 477 attempts, 2,435 yards, 18 TDs, and 5.1 yard-per-carry average. Alfred Morris has rushed for 1,413 yards and 10 TDs.
- The Seahawks are ranked 2nd in the NFL in rushing using convention stats. They have 467 attempts, 2,426 yards, 15 TDs, and a 4.8 yards-per-carry average. Marshawn Lynch has rushed for 1,490 yards and 11 TDs.
If a rookie has a running game like that, he'd have to be a pretty crappy QB not to have the TD-to-INT ratios both RG3 and Wilson have. Compare rushing attacks to the Colts:
- 22nd in rushing, 407 attempts, 1,590 yards, 10 TDs, and a 3.9 yards-per-carry average. Vick Ballard is the leading rusher with 736 yards and 1 TD.
Luck doesn't have nearly the dominant rushing attacks that RG3 and Wilson are blessed to have. Yet, he's been able to accomplish so much. This should be considered when evaluating the candidates.
Photo credit: Andy Lyons
Who's Afraid To Throw, And Who Isn't
When I called the Redskins and Seahawk offenses "gimmick," I want it made clear that I do not think RG3 or Wilson "suck" and are, thus, being protected by their respeactive teams because of said suckitude. These guys are very competent QBs, not the second coming of Vince Young (though, in many ways, the hype surrounding RG3 is comparable).
However, it should give the observer pause when, as they evaluate these candidates, they see a rookie QB like Wilson placed in a read-option system. The message that it sends, fairly or not, is that the coaches do not feel comfortable with the quarterback throwing in a conventional offense. By conventional I mean the QB under center, 3-or-5 step drops, scanning the entire field, and then delivering the football to the receiver.
Both the Redskins and the Seahawks do not allow RG3 and Wilson to work in this system. This limits their attempts and, as a result, their mistakes as well. It's kind of hard to turn the football over if you're handing it off to a runningback all day.
RG3 has only thrown the ball 375 times this season. Mind you, he's missed time throughout the year with injuries, but 375 is an extremely low number. Unlike Griffin, Wilson has started every game and not missed time due to injury. Amazingly, his attempts are slightly lower, at 374.
The most attempts by Wilson in one game: 37, a 23-17 win over the Bears in Week 12. Wilson has thrown the ball more than 30 times in just three games, with team going 1-2.
The most attempts by RG3 in one game: 39, in a 21-13 loss to the Panthers in Week 9. He's thrown the ball more than 30 times in just four games, with the team going 1-3.
Of the 26 NFL quarterbacks who have started at least 12 games this year, the two with the fewest passing attempts are RG3 and Wilson. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick sits right behind Wilson in attempts at 319. Vick has only played in 9 games.
The reason these numbers are so low is, as previously stated, the 'Skins and the 'Hawks both have impressive run games. They also have very opportunistic defenses, which we will show further down. Without those two things, there is no way their attempts could be so low and the team have any sustained success on the field. Thus, the message sent when you see those numbers is the coaches for those respective teams might be a bit shy to let their rookie QBs sling the rock.
This makes sense. Both combined are 2-5 when they fling it more than 30 times a game.
The Colts have to throw to win. A lot. Andrew Luck has already shattered the rookie attempts record by tossing the rock 599 times! Of his 15 games played, Luck hasn't thrown more than 30 passes in a game just three times. In 13 others, he's thrown more than 30. In seven games, he's thrown more than 40 passes. In three games, he's thrown more than 50!
The Colts trust Luck to throw the ball, and for good reason. Redskins and Seahawks? Not so much with their guys.
Personally, I find it hard to give a RotY award to a quarterback who plays for a team that intentionally limits the opportunities for that QB to actually throw the football. But, hey, that's just me.
Luck And His (lack of) Defense
Overall, the Colts and their defensive coordinator Greg Manusky have done a fine job in 2012, considering what they have to work with. I say this with clenched teeth because no one has been more critical of the Manusky hire than me. League people and media alike did not care for his results in San Francisco or San Diego. He also wasn't Chuck Pagano's first option when the defensive coordinator job opened up.
Yet, despite injuries and the rapid decline of Dwight Freeney (who seems lost in Pagano's new hybrid 3-4 scheme), the defense has done just enough to help the team win.
However, when you compare Indy's defense with Washington's and Seattle's, you see that both Griffin and Wilson have benefited significantly while Luck has had to pick up the slack.
Using our own The Winning Stats (taken prior to the Colts win over the Chiefs in Week 16, which saw KC rush for a mind-blowing 352 yards), the Colts are:
- Ranked dead last in total defense
- 31st in Orange Zone efficiency
- 28th in Red Zone efficiency
- 30th in forcing three-and-outs
The Colts also have the worst starting field position for their offense in the league.
When it comes to the defense having a positive impact on the game, both Griffin and Wilson benefit. Luck does not. Using Pro Football Reference's "expected points" metric, the Seahawks clock in with an impressive +40.04 rating. The Redskins are a less impressive -65.20.
The Colts: -97.63
Before Luck even gets the ball in his hands, he has to contend with the errors of his own defense, which gives up a ton of yards, can't get teams off the field on third down, and can't pressure the opposing team's QB. They have just 28 sacks.
RG3 and Wilson also benefit greatly from their defense generating turnovers, which are ultimate equalizer in football:
- Redskins are 10th in defensive TOs with 28, 18 INTs and 10 fumble recoveries
- Seahawks are 5th in defensive TOs with 30, 17 picks and 13 FRs
The Colts are next-to-last in the league with only 13 total turnovers. It really is amazing what Luck has been able to do despite such little from his defense in the turnover department, and it should be taken into consideration.
At the end of the day, you really can't go "wrong" voting for any of these great, young players. However, for my money, based on the numbers and on analysis that is a tad deeper than just watching a handful of primetime games, Luck is the superior QB to Wilson or Griffin. He has also played better than both, especially considering what he has had to work with compared to his counterparts.
Another thing to consider is the adversity that Luck has had to overcome. Neither Griffin nor Wilson had to battle through a season without their head coach, as Luck has had to. Do you honestly think RG3 would be having the season he's having if Kyle Shanahan had to take over as head coach for his father, Mike? If Pete Carroll had to step down mid-season, would Wilson even be starting at this point? That Luck has been able to will the Colts to 9 victories sans his head coach (10 overall) should automatically give him the RotY award! No number-crunching. No hand-wring over his 54% pass completion number.
9 wins sans your coach? Here's your award, kid!
Sadly, I think that important bit of information is getting lost in the national analysis.
Really, it doesn't truly matter who wins this award. I'm happy with the guy the Colts have, and I have a strong belief that if the Redskins or Seahawks could dump their guys for our No. 12, they would. Still, it would be preferable that the people voting on these awards and analyzing the candidates do their due diligence. It's unacceptable now, with all the modern stat tools and the All-22 tape, for anyone not to know just how great Andrew Luck is and how obviously deserving he is of the RotY award.