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Is Andrew Luck’s sliding really that big of a deal?

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve paid attention to coverage of the Colts this offseason, odds are you’ve heard talk about Andrew Luck's sliding. Local Indianapolis media has made a huge deal about it and it has morphed into one of the leading issues of the offseason.

Don’t believe me? Take ESPN’s Mike Wells for example. Recently, ESPN published a prediction piece in which their writers made 100 predictions for the 2016 NFL season, and five of those predictions were about the Colts - while Wells himself only made three of them. Want to know what one of those predictions was?

82. Who needs a baseball instructor to teach you how to slide? Not QB Andrew Luck. Luck will finally stop being stubborn and realize it's OK to slide instead of taking unnecessary hits (see early fourth quarter of Week 9 last season). -- Mike Wells

So yeah, an ESPN piece predicting things for the entire NFL felt that one of the top five predictions for the Colts this year was about Luck's sliding. Got it.

The Indianapolis Star’s Zak Keefer today took it a step further by calling it the “most significant offseason development for [the] Colts” and then, in an article all about Luck sliding, writing this:

Same goes for Colts management, Colts coaches, even Colts fans. It’s the most important football maneuver any player on this team will make in any game this season. Luck’s health depends on it. The offense depends on it. The franchise depends on it.

So the entire franchise depends upon Andrew Luck sliding. Got it.

None of this is to suggest that Andrew Luck sliding isn't important. As Chuck Pagano and others on the Colts staff have pointed out for months, Luck needs to protect himself - while still being himself as much as possible. There are multiple facets to this, however, such as throwing the football away at times or, at times, sliding. The emphasis has been on playing smarter and protecting himself. The media has taken that as sliding more (and better).

Even fans have been caught up in it. Last night at the team’s open practice at Lucas Oil Stadium, Luck faked a handoff and then kept it on a bootleg before sliding after a few yards. The crowd gave a loud cheer and PA announcer Bob Lamey made a point of noting it as well. The only person not making a bit deal out of Luck sliding seems to be Luck himself. Here’s a part of his conversation with the media on Thursday:

Was your slide at practice yesterday a statement by you?

“No, that was not a statement (laughs). Just sliding I guess, I don’t know.”

How’s the sliding going?

“It’s fine I guess. I don’t know. It’s part of practice. A big part of practice is making it as game like as possible. With all things, if you throw an interception you start running after the guy that intercepted it. If you’re out running and you’re not near the sidelines, you slide. It’s part of practice.”

Does part of you not like sliding?

“No, I have no problem with sliding.”

Basically, Luck doesn’t think there’s any big deal with him sliding or doing so in practice. But is it really a big deal, or is it simply the media overreacting to an offseason storyline?

Since most of the discussion about sliding has centered around not taking big hits on scrambles in light of his injuries last year, I decided to go back and look at every single one of his scrambles last year, including preseason. Was there really an issue with Luck sliding? I think the answer might surprise you.

Excluding plays such as kneeldowns, I categorized every scramble.

  • On eight of them, Luck got out of bounds or into the end zone - no complaints there.
  • On another, it was a quarterback sneak - so yeah, a normal play in which he's going to get hit at least somewhat.
  • On four others, he was dragged down from behind - plays where he might get hit but where you also can’t expect him to slide because there weren't defenders coming to lay him out.
  • Another play basically looked exactly like a sack but officially counted for a gain of a yard or two.
  • Then on five plays, I would consider it an acceptable football play, one where Luck scrambled on third down and didn’t give himself up by sliding because he was trying to get a first down - his health is surely worth more than one first down, but I’m also hesitant to say he should slide shy of the first down just because of fear of injury.
  • On seven other plays, Luck actually did slide - some were better than others and some were basically just him falling to the ground, but he did indeed slide (and it’s worth noting that one of the hardest hits he took on a scramble last year was when he slid and a Bills defender came in late and hit him in the head, drawing a personal foul penalty).
  • That leaves just a couple of other plays to look at. On one of those plays, he was sandwiched between two defenders and fumbled. It wasn’t a play where he gave himself up, wasn’t a third down situation, and he didn't get out of bounds, but it also wasn't one where he for sure should have slid. There were defenders coming from either side and they hit him, but it wasn’t a ‘for-sure’ slide play. The other play is the one that I’m sure sticks in everyone’s minds: the play against the Broncos where he was hit hard and lacerated his kidney. On that play, it was only a small gain and it was an unnecessary hit, but that would be the only play from the 2016 season where I think Luck maybe should have slid (but it’s far from certain). Even then, everything happens so fast that it's hard to always expect that from him, and football plays will happen.

So there it is: I think there’s only one play, maybe two in which Luck should have slid last year when he didn’t. Of course, some of this is subjective, but I actually think most of them were clearer than I expected.

In other words, the huge offseason discussion has been about something that will likely happen only a handful of times per season - or less: a play where Luck should slide but didn’t. A bigger concern would be the hits he takes in the pocket instead of scrambles, but that discussion has been taken care of when talking about the offensive line.

It’s true that Luck could stand to improve his slides - some of them were quite ugly last year. And it's also true that Luck needs to help the Colts out and protect himself better. But the massive emphasis from some in the Indianapolis media this offseason seems a bit far-fetched. Contrary to popular opinion, the Colts’ 2016 season doesn't rest solely on Andrew Luck’s ability to slide.