You see it all of the time in the NFL, and often it makes a key difference in the outcome. A play breaks down, but the quarterback manages to extend the play and create something out of nothing.
The Colts have seen first-hand the impact this can have. Andrew Luck has been tremendous in his short career so far at extending broken plays and keeping plays alive. That has been a big part of the Colts' success, and there are multiple games in recent years that the Colts wouldn't have won if it weren't for Luck's playmaking.
So when the Colts talk about Luck needing to play smarter to avoid injury, understand that they aren't talking about taking away Luck's playmaking ability. They've never once said they want to do that (and in fact have said the opposite), and they actually have been practicing extending plays in practice.
"Coach Chud [Rob Chudzinski] and the rest of the guys have done a great job of extending plays, so to speak," head coach Chuck Pagano explained on Tuesday. "So when it breaks down, we don’t just blow a whistle and stop the thing. If there’s a pressure, there’s a sack, obviously we can’t get to the quarterback this time of year so the defense does a fly by. And they’ve taught the offense since day one how to extend plays.
"There are some teams in the league that do a really, really good job with it. We’ve been on the wrong side of it. When I was at Baltimore, against Pittsburgh, they do it as good as anybody. So our guys are doing a great job and we’re working on that. We’ve got athletic guys, speed guys, skill guys on the outside. That’s tough from a defensive standpoint because it’s hard enough covering for two and a half, three seconds. Now when you extend a play, and a guy you think he’s going one way and everybody breaks a different direction it’s tough. We will continue to work on that.”
The thinking behind practicing this way is two-fold, according to Pagano: it helps the offense react when plays break down and it helps the defense know how to respond when an opponent extends the play. This is a smart thing to practice, as we know that the scenario happens often in the NFL. While nothing can truly prepare you for the broken plays happening (because they are by nature unpredictable), allowing them to happen in practice is as good of a way as possible to get used to it. The offense can work on things such as adjusting routes mid-play to help out the quarterback, while the defense can work on things such as keeping up with receivers or pursuing the quarterback.
Pagano explained this strategy when asked about taking advantage of their quarterbacks' athleticism, which is particularly interesting. That shows that perhaps the Colts are in fact embracing this style of play and encouraging their quarterbacks to use their athletic ability to make plays. That would mean that we might continue to see Andrew Luck scramble at times to get away from pressure or to try to extend the play, though many would also like to see the Colts incorporate more designed quarterback rollouts too.
The biggest takeaway is this: as expected, the Colts' emphasis on protecting Andrew Luck (and on Luck protecting himself) won't prohibit Luck from displaying the playmaking ability that makes him so dangerous. Many people seem to think that protecting Luck means shielding him from all hits, but it instead means teaching him to be smarter about some of the unnecessary hits and means throwing the ball away or sliding at times when the play warrants it. But Luck can extend plays and the Colts aren't going to take that away anytime soon. Hopefully these comments from Chuck Pagano will help align the expectations about 'protecting Luck' with what the Colts have said all along: they want to keep their franchise quarterback healthy, but they don't want to take away a part of what makes him special in the first place. It's a tough balance to find, but it's a balance the Colts are actively working to find in practice.