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Luck, Colts are Very Good on 3rd Down

An underrated aspect of the Colts offense and Andrew Luck in particular this year has been their performance on third down. But they have been very good on the most important down.

Michael Hickey

Everyone reading this likely knows how great Andrew Luck has been this year.  We've been raving about his play all season long, and much of it is deserved.  One underrated aspect of his game, however, is his play on third down.  He has been tremendous on the most important down this year, but when you hear just how tremendous, it will amaze you even more.

This is from Chase Stuart of the New York Times in a recent piece on Luck:

"His third-down pass attempts have led to six defensive pass interference or defensive holding calls - those are ignored by traditional statistics but help a team just as much as a completion, and no other quarterback has drawn more than four such penalties.

"Luck has been sacked just once on 47 dropbacks on third down, another underrated quarterback skill. Add in Luck's excellent play on third downs generally, and Lacarda says that Luck has a league-leading (and near-perfect) 97.6 QBR on third down. To put that in context, Peyton Manning is second at 90.2. As a team, Indianapolis has converted on 50 percent of its third downs, the second-highest rate in the league behind the Broncos (58.3)."

That's insane.  ESPN's QBR system is on a 100 point scale, with 100 being perfect.  On 3rd downs, Luck is close to perfect, with a 97.6.  The QBR takes into consideration more than just passing - for example, it accounts for his running ability.  Actually, it ranks Luck as the NFL's most valuable running quarterback, something that should come as no surprise.  On third down this year, he has run 6 times - picking up 74 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Never once has he failed to pick up the first down.

Also, as Stuart notes, Luck has been tremendous at drawing penalties on 3rd down.  They are just as effective as completed passes and should definitely be taken into consideration.  The fact that Luck has drawn 6 of them in just 5 games on 3rd down is incredible.

I went back and did some math and Luck is completing 58.5% of his passes on third down this year, averaging 6.27 yards per attempt and 10.71 yards per completion.  44.2% of his pass attempts on the down have gone for first downs.  Those numbers include 3 drops and a hail mary to end a first half, so adjusting for those leaves Luck's third down completion percentage at 64.9% and his yards per attempt at 6.95.  Including passes, runs, penalties, and sacks, on the plays that Luck is directly involved in, the Colts are getting a first down on over 57% of their third downs.  That's really good.  [NOTE: Matt Hasselbeck has had one third down attempt in garbage time against the Jaguars and was 0/1].

Looking at the team as a whole, as Stuart noted they are right around 50%, second to only the Broncos (who are at a crazy level right now).  Other than Luck, the Colts have run 13 times on third down, converting 6 of them and averaging 3.92 yards per carry.  Ahmad Bradshaw converted 3 of his 6 tries on the season, Donald Brown has converted only 1 of 4 attempts, and Trent Richardson has gotten a first down on 2 of his 3 third down carries with the Colts this year.

What does all this mean?  It means that the Colts are very good on third downs offensively, and in particular, Andrew Luck is phenomenal on the most important down.  In fact, he's the best in football on third down.