All offseason, there was a huge, overblown focus on Andrew Luck protecting himself.
It ranged from the coaching staff to Jim Irsay to media members and to fans, but the theme was clear: Andrew Luck needs to do a better job of protecting himself from hits. After all, he missed nine games due to injury last year and this year received a mega-extension, so the emphasis is a good one: Luck doesn’t need to take so many unnecessary hits. He can throw the football away at times if need be, and he can slide at the end of runs. It was a point that some in the media hammered home relentlessly this offseason.
But then, on Sunday, when Andrew Luck didn’t run for a 4th-and-1 conversion late in the game, people in the media freaked out. What?
In reality, it was a perfectly acceptable decision that Andrew Luck made to throw the football to Dwayne Allen in that situation. Because what some might not have realized at the time when they criticized Luck was that Allen was indeed open. Take a look for yourself:
Luck certainly had Allen open, and it wasn’t a bad throw either. You can argue whether Luck should have led Allen a little more, but regardless, the throw was good-enough. And you can argue whether Allen should have been able to bring that ball in or not, but regardless, it was a great play by the defender. Sometimes, those things just happen. But either way, if you’re arguing those above points then you’ve already conceded that Luck made a good decision to throw the football.
Could he have gotten the first down running? Probably - but after hearing his coaches, the media, and fans hammer it into his head all offseason about needing to protect himself and then seeing Allen that open, who wouldn’t expect him to throw that? And if you’re criticizing Luck for not running there but emphasized all offseason the need for him to protect himself, what changed?
The response to that would likely be, “well there are certain situations where he just needs to make a play,” but that’s what some (including myself) have said all along: there’s a fine balance between getting him to protect himself and taking away what makes him special. Luck, for his part, was clearly frustrated after the game on Sunday and was running through whether he could have done differently on that play:
“There's a million decisions in every game,” Luck said. “In hindsight, you look at it and you say I wish or I shoulda, coulda. We can all play Monday morning quarterback, whatever. And I know I make every decision by what I think is going to be the best decision for the offense and at that time, stepping up, I thought the best way to get that first down was to pop it to Dwayne. A guy made a nice play and I wish I put a little more umpf on the ball, a lot of things. Just tuck and run, just get the friggin' first down. But it didn't happen and you move on. Defense did a nice job stopping them and we had a chance, still had a chance at the end.”
Luck is right: his decision was fine. His throw was fine. The defender just made a great play. Again, it happens.
His head coach doesn’t think the decision was indicitive of their emphasis on getting the quarterback to protect himself backfiring.
“No, because earlier in that half there was one down in the red area where he took off and there were yards to be had,” Pagano said. “He probably took a shot he didn’t need to, so no. He went forward and got hit on the left shoulder and didn’t slide in that instance. He’s still playing the position with instincts. He’s making great decisions and those types of things about when to slide, when to throw it away, taking the check downs and taking what they give us. They kept everything in front of them last night. They played softer coverage when applicable. They made it difficult. We hit the one late. We had it open early and we ran the same thing later in the game and hit the 64-yarder to Phillip [Dorsett]. No, I think he’s just going through his progression and saw a guy right there and felt like he could make that play.”
Such is the way of a football game, as a play like that can change an entire game. Both teams have playmakers, and the Jaguars made a play on that 4th-and-1 stop. Maybe the Colts could have done something differently, but the criticism of Andrew Luck on that play is absurd and misplaced. Maybe Luck could have run it, but after an offseason of incessant focus on him protecting himself and with Dwayne Allen open, nobody should fault Luck for his decision-making on that play.
It was as simple as this, per Pagano: “The [Jaguars defender] made a play.”