A common argument that has been heard around Indianapolis this year goes something like this: “yeah, the offensive line isn’t great, but Andrew Luck holds the ball way too long, so a lot of those sacks are on him!”
No doubt you’ve heard something like that, or perhaps you have said similar things yourself. But is it true?
At the bye week the Colts’ assistant coaches get a chance to speak with the media, and quarterbacks coach Brian Schottenheimer was asked for his thoughts regarding whether there’s an ideal amount of time for Luck to actually hold on to the football.
“It depends on the protection,” Schottenheimer responded. “Obviously the protection drives it. If we are in an eight-man run action protection, where we are trying to sell run and get the linebackers to suck up, he’s going to hold it maybe a little bit longer than maybe a three-step drop. There’s a time clock. Quarterbacks have a time clock. They all do. He tends to push it sometimes, just because he trusts himself. Then of course he’s able to improvise when things aren’t there.”
That is a pretty good summation of the issue: with a deeper dropback and a deeper passing offense Luck is going to need to hold the ball longer, but even then there are some times where Luck holds it trying to make a play - which is part of what makes him special, since he actually can do it.
I’ve written before (and others have said it as well) that a lot of the concern over whether Luck holds the ball too long is overblown for much the same reason Schottenheimer said: not all plays are the same. The Colts have run an offense that features deeper dropbacks and deeper pass plays, so of course Luck is going to hold the ball a little longer on those plays. That doesn’t mean that every time he holds the ball he’s justified in doing it, but I don’t think it’s as big of an issue as many have made it.
It also doesn’t mean that Luck is perfect, however, and Schottenheimer knows it. “He’s got a tendency to believe so much in his arm, that, ‘Hey, I’ll make that throw no matter how tight the window is,’” Schottenheimer said, according to the Indianapolis Star’s Zak Keefer. Schottenheimer also said that the thing that separates the good quarterbacks from the great quarterbacks is consistency - doing it year after year - while the quarterbacks coach also mentioned that Luck is the best player he’s been around when it comes to accountability and is very coachable.
With all of this talk about Luck, it’s important to remember this much: through nine games, he’s having one of the best seasons of his career and looks a lot like the player the Colts saw when they made Luck the first overall draft pick in 2012. Luck is on pace to complete a career-high 63.7% of his passes for 4,560 yards (7.4 yards per attempt), 30 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions while also adding 398 yards and two touchdowns rushing. But even with that improvement, there’s still room to improve.
“He’s made a lot of improvements, certainly have a long way to go,” Schottenheimer said. “We are trying to get him to continue to make fast decisions. I think you saw a little bit of that last week, working progressions. We have a system that there are going to be a lot of progressions – three, four, five guys in each route that he can get to. When a guy is not open, to get off it. He’s got a tendency to believe so much in his arm that, ‘Hey, I’ll make that throw, no matter how tight the window is.’ But with the skill players that we have and the multiple receivers that we have who can get open, he’s getting better at trying to eliminate things and go from one-to-two. Last week, I think on probably five or six of those concepts, he got back to the fourth or fifth progression.”
This is Andrew Luck: the Colts’ franchise quarterback who is playing at a very high level, yet who has even more room to improve. It’s Schottenheimer’s job to help the quarterback continue to get better, and the early signs have been positive in the 2016 season.