Over the next few weeks, we'll be taking a position by position look at the Indianapolis Colts' 2014 season. Today, we start with the quarterbacks, and that's really the only place to start, because the story of the Colts season was Andrew Luck.
In movies, there are categories for main characters and then for supporting characters. In many ways, Luck was the main character of the Colts' 2014 season and the other players all played supporting roles. This isn't to discredit other Colts from what they accomplished, but it is to say that Andrew Luck was fantastic in 2014 and he's the main reason the Colts won thirteen games. Locally, there's a narrative in Indianapolis in which fans think this team was more talented than it actually was. Nationally, it was widely regarded as a team that didn't surround Andrew Luck with enough talent. So we're going to look position by position at the Colts roster and explore whether that was true in 2014, but one thing is clear: it all starts with Luck.
After two impressive seasons in the NFL, Andrew Luck clearly took the next step this year. He completed 380 of 616 passes (61.7%) for 4,761 yards (breaking Peyton Manning's single-season franchise record), 40 touchdowns (leading the NFL), 16 interceptions, and finished with a quarterback rating of 96.5. He added 273 yards and 3 touchdowns rushing while leading the Colts to an 11-5 record and a second-straight AFC South title. With Luck under center and playing fantastic football, the Colts also won two playoff games, defeating the Cincinnati Bengals at home in the Wild Card round and then upsetting the Denver Broncos on the road in the Divisional round.
It's often easy to forget that Luck was just in his third year as Colts' quarterback, but he set career highs in completions, completion percentage, yards, yards per attempt, touchdown passes, and passer rating. He set the Colts' franchise record for most 300-yard passing games in a single season with ten and set the franchise record for most passing yards in a single season with 4,761. Luck became just the eighth player in NFL history to throw for 40+ touchdowns in a single season, and he became just the seventh to do so while also throwing for 4,750+ yards.
As we've come to expect from Luck, he is a playmaker. Every game he makes a couple of plays that just leave you amazed at how he actually did that. He's a terrific quarterback throwing the football who has almost everything you'd want in your franchise player. He's tough, can extend plays with his legs, can put passes absolutely on target, is a leader, is humble, and the face of the franchise - plus, he can really grow a neckbeard.
In 2014, we also saw Luck's tendency to extend plays come back to hurt him at times, however. He lost six fumbles in addition to the sixteen interceptions, and that led some to say the quarterback had a turnover issue. His interception percentage, though, was just 2.6%, a very healthy number. In other words, of course he's going to throw some interceptions when he's throwing as much as he did. I went back and charted each of Luck's turnovers, and four of his picks could be considered "tipped" balls, while six of his picks could be considered "under pressure" - and two of them probably could have been caught by the intended receiver. Ultimately, the interceptions weren't the issue with Andrew Luck in 2014, considering how much he threw the football. The more concerning aspect from Luck's game was his fumbles, and this largely came from his efforts to extend plays. Luck was officially credited with thirteen fumbles during the season, though that's a skewed number - two of them came on bad snaps and three of them came on botched handoffs. Taking away those five, Luck was credited with eight fumbles, and on five of them I thought it could have been considered him trying to extend the play. Basically, he needs to learn how to take a sack. If there's one area you could nitpick this season on what Luck needs to improve on, it'd probably be that.
Of course, if that's the worst thing a quarterback did this year on a consistent basis, then he must have played pretty well. And that was indeed the case with Andrew Luck. He not only took his play on the field to a different level, he also continued to step up into a bigger leadership role with the team as well, which is just part of the process of becoming a legitimate franchise quarterback. This offseason, nobody will be talking about Luck becoming that player - it was pretty clear even in 2012 that Luck was the Colts' longtime franchise quarterback. No, this offseason, people will be talking about Luck being "elite" - he's certainly in the discussion, and in 2014 there weren't many quarterbacks better than he was. He carried the Colts, and he'll be doing that for the next decade as well. That's the best part about it: when we're talking about how great Luck was in 2014, we also realize that he was just in his third NFL season and that he'll only continue to get better.
One last aspect we must look at in our quarterback review is the backup quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck. He entered four games this year in a relief role and threw passes in three of them, and he played very well in the limited opportunity. He completed 30 of 44 passes (68.3%) for 301 yards and two touchdowns without a pick. For a 39-year old backup quarterback, that's great. He's one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL and arguably Luck's best friend on the team, but he's also a free agent this offseason. If he decides to return for another NFL season, would the Colts bring him back? Would he like to return to the Colts even though he won't see the field other than in a relief role?
These are the questions that will be addressed at the quarterback position this year, and when the biggest questions are about the backup quarterback, that's a good thing. Because Andrew Luck has firmly entrenched himself as one of the league's best quarterbacks, and he's just going to continue to improve.