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Andrew Luck Is Already Great

Some people seem to think that Andrew Luck isn't great. Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson argues that actually, Luck already is.

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Justin K. Aller

Mondays during football season should officially be renamed "Overreaction Monday."  If a team wins, that one game is sometimes enough to shower them with praise, forgetting about the six or seven other games of the season.  If a team loses, that's more than enough ammo for people to say they're a terrible team and not going anywhere.

Since the Colts lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday, and their defense was absolutely embarrassed, there's plenty of the latter going on today regarding the Colts.  And I'm not about to be the one sitting here writing a defense of the Colts defense - though even that we must look at through the eight games we've seen, not just the one.  The Colts defense was bad yesterday, and for that there will be some very deserved criticism.  Pick a defender and you'd probably be justified in criticizing him.  But one person you shouldn't be criticizing is the very one who many are today: quarterback Andrew Luck.

Take this headline from the Monday Morning Quarterback's Greg A. Bedard today: "Andrew Luck Isn't Great."  And then he draws this conclusion:

"But until he performs better and smarter, especially early in games and against top opponents, no one should be anointing him a great anything quite yet. This is his third year in the league, and he has started 40 games. Instead of saying how great Luck is, people should be asking why he hasn't been better. If the Colts are to take the next step this season, he needs to be."

I'm sorry, but if that is what you choose to write about from yesterday's Colts game, then something is wrong.  There's no way to watch what happened in Pittsburgh yesterday and come away writing an article like that over some of the other things we saw.  No way.  I didn't come into the day thinking, "hey, I'm gonna have to defend Andrew Luck today!"  I thought most people would have understood what Luck was doing.  But maybe I was wrong, so here we go: Andrew Luck already is great, and yesterday's game was just another example of why.

What Andrew Luck did yesterday was nothing short of remarkable.  He took a huge beating, his team fell behind big early (granted, in part because of his pick-six but in no way solely because of that), and yet he kept fighting.  It seemed like he was getting hit every single play and yet he kept slinging it.  He completed only 25 of 46 passes (though 3 were throwaways and 2 were drops, per Pro Football Focus), but threw for 400 yards (8.9 yards per attempt), 3 touchdowns and 2 picks.  Now, about those picks - one was in the end zone as the Colts were trying to come back down two scores near the end of the game.  It doesn't excuse the throw, but I'm not going to blast Luck for that one after he was the only reason the Colts were somewhat close.  The other pick was a pick-six, and understand this: the blame for that one goes to Luck.  He's ultimately responsible.  But his wide receiver, Hakeem Nicks, did nothing to help him out.  It was a simple coverage for the Steelers and Luck actually made the right read.  But William Gay made a better read on Hakeem Nicks, and the receivers' lack of burst and lack of timing with Luck made for a relatively easy pick by Gay.  Understand that Luck is responsible for the throw and it's his fault - but if that was another receiver other than Nicks, there's a decent chance that one isn't picked off.  Gay wouldn't have been able to camp out like he did on Nicks and perhaps Luck would have made a better throw (because his timing with pretty much everyone else is better than with Nicks).  It wasn't a terrible read.  It was just an unfortunate play - but one that Luck should take the blame for (like he has).

And lest you think that the Colts' quarterback has a turnover issue, let's look at the numbers, shall we?  Under Pep Hamilton in the regular season (24 games), Luck has thrown 18 picks in 917 attempts - an interception on only 2% of his throws.  That number would rank second all-time if qualifying (tied with Tom Brady).  Expand it to the playoffs last year (so the past two regular seasons plus the playoffs last year) and the interception percentage is just 2.5%, which would still rank tied for the 12th best mark all-time.  So not nearly as good, but that's not really a turnover problem either.  In his career in the regular season (40 games), Luck has thrown 36 picks in 1,544 attempts - an interception percentage of 2.33%.  That would rank tied for sixth all-time.  And lastly, if you extend it to his entire NFL career (40 regular season games and 3 playoff games), Luck has thrown 44 picks on 1,684 attempts - 2.6%.  That would tie for the 16th best mark all-time - tied with some guys named Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Joe Montana, among others.  And this all from a guy who has only played less than three seasons.  So you can say it's a small sample size if you want, but I tend to look at the fact that in the years when most quarterbacks throw the most picks, Luck's interception percentage still ranks among the all-time best.  And let's look at his touchdown to interception ratio, too.  Over the last two years, his ratio is 2:1 - which would rank third best all-time, just behind Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and just ahead of Peyton Manning.  We'll just jump ahead to looking at every NFL pass he has thrown.  He's thrown 74 touchdowns and 44 picks in 40 career regular season games and 3 career playoff games.  That ratio (1.68:1) would rank as the 16th best all-time.

Ultimately, there are many who use the argument that, "Luck makes a couple of throws a game that are just terrible."  Yes, he absolutely does.  But instead of going back through film over the past few years picking out examples of when Luck made a bad throw, why not look at the fact that almost every quarterback makes a couple of bad throws per game.  For Luck, they're just amplified even more.  The margin for error is smaller.  I'm not saying that Andrew Luck doesn't make bad throws.  I'm saying that his number of bad throws isn't that high for a quarterback throwing as much as he does.

And let's talk this year.  Because of course we're talking about the question of whether Luck is already elite.  Guess who leads the NFL in passing yards?  Yeah, Andrew Luck.  In fact, halfway through the season Luck is on pace to throw for 5,462 yards - just 15 yards behind Peyton Manning's all-time record for most passing yards in a single season.  Halfway through the season, Luck is on pace to throw for 44 touchdowns - a mark that would tie for the seventh best total in NFL history.  But by all means, keep talking about those couple of throws per game that he misses.

Ok, so what about Sunday?  I think there might not be another quarterback in the league who could have stood in there and taken the beating that Luck did yet still score 34 points in his first game in Pittsburgh in his first game against Dick LeBeau in a game that everyone knew he would be throwing it every play, while getting hit on a large number of his attempts.  Oh, and for those of you who choose to use PFF's knockdown/hits number, I offer this: I talked with a guy who works for PFF today who said that he's not even willing to use their number of knockdowns or hits on Luck because they're tracking that without the coaches film yet, and he said that he anticipates significant changes to be made to that number once the coaching film is released.  Take that for what it's worth, but even guys who work at PFF aren't using those numbers because they don't even feel it's accurate.  I don't either, and it sure seemed like Luck was under duress on most of his throws.

And yet somehow, he kept the Colts in it.  Somehow, with everything around him going wrong and even with a shaky start from him (i.e. the pick-six), Luck never gave up, never quit, and instead continued to fight and make some great throws.  The defense knew he was throwing.  They sent blitzes and rushes that the Colts couldn't handle.  They got to Luck and they tried to get him confused.  And still the offense offense put up 34 points and 448 yards on the road while having the ball for just 20:17.  Luck threw for 400 yards and 3 scores.  The Steelers knew exactly what the Colts were doing, got to Luck, and still couldn't stop him.  In my opinion, but yesterday was one of the best games Luck has played this year, all things considered.

There's much more that we can talk about as to why Andrew Luck is already great.  But I think the numbers and his play speak for themselves.  He's a quarterback who's still going to make some mistakes at times.  But guess what?  The only quarterback who doesn't make mistakes is the one sitting on the bench.  I think those mistakes are actually at a very healthy number when considering what the Colts ask Luck to do.  This isn't excuse making for Luck.  It's a reality-check to look at the whole picture.

There will be differing opinions on Andrew Luck, and odds are that this article won't do much to change people's opinions of him.  That's part of what makes football football - two people can watch the same game and come away with differing opinions.  I think Andrew Luck is already great, and if anything Sunday's game just served to show that once again.