We’ll be taking a position-by-position look at the Colts’ 2016 season in the coming weeks, and what better place to start than the most important position on the field - and the one with the Colts’ best player - as we look at the quarterbacks.
Simply put, Andrew Luck was as good as ever in 2016.
He completed 63.5% of his passes (a career high) for 4,240 yards (7.8 yards per attempt, a career high), 31 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a 96.4 passer rating. He also was a weapon on the ground, rushing for 341 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Luck finished second on the team in rushing yards, third in rushing touchdowns, first in yards per carry (with a minimum of ten carries), first in 20+ yard runs (Luck had three and the rest of the team had one combined), and was tied for second in rushing first downs.
For Luck, it was a return to the level he had been playing at in 2014, only with some smarter decision-making added on. Right in the middle of the two seasons, however, was the 2015 season, which was a disaster for Luck and the Colts in a rough injury-plagued year. This past season showed very clearly that the struggles in 2015 were likely mostly due to injury, but that rough campaign still clouds the narrative when it comes to Luck. That’s why it’s so encouraging for the Colts and their fans to see Luck return to his previous high level of play: it shows that 2015 was an aberration. If anything, Luck was slightly more efficient in 2016 than he was even in 2014: he completed a higher percentage of his passes, had a tiny increase in yards per attempt, and limited the interceptions more than he’s done in any year besides 2013.
And Luck did all of that despite not getting a ton of help from his supporting cast. He was tied for the second-most sacked quarterback in the NFL, and according to Pro Football Focus he was under pressure on the third-highest percentage of his dropbacks of any quarterback in the league (44.4%). As a bit of a side note along those lines, Luck was PFF’s fourth-highest graded quarterback in 2016, and of the three ahead of him (Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and Aaron Rodgers), none faced pressure on more than 32.7% of their dropbacks. In terms of the running game, for as much as Frank Gore should be commended for his season, he still ranked 28th among qualified running backs in yards per carry. The Colts also dealt with a lot of drops, placing them near the top of the league in terms of pure number of drops. Defensively, the Colts ranked 30th in yards per game allowed and 22nd in points per game allowed. Andrew Luck had four fourth quarter comebacks/game winning drives this year, and he should have had another one too had the defense not blown things in the final minute against the Lions.
So you start to get the picture: Andrew Luck is both very good and very valuable to this team. Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski even admitted as much near the end of the season. “I can’t imagine there is another guy in this league that is as valuable to their team as Andrew,” he said.
The biggest negative regarding Andrew Luck’s play is his inconsistency. There are times where Luck will miss passes and will just seem off - sometimes on a drive, sometimes in a quarter, sometimes in a half, and sometimes in a game. There are stretches in which Luck is off, but the overall picture is one of a very good quarterback. I suspect a lot of the difference in opinion (from those who actually watch the games, that is) is based on the tendency many have today to judge things instantly. In a Twitter age of instant reactions, we’re living and dying by each pass a quarterback throws. Each pass of every game will be subjected to scrutiny, so some choose to hold on to a few throws even after the game is over rather than looking at the whole picture of a game or of a season to formulate opinions. But we don’t hold everyone to these same standards, only those who we want to believe aren’t good. Case in point? Look at Aaron Rodgers yesterday. He was off for the first quarter and a half, and then he caught fire. If you look at any post-game recap (at least those that I’ve seen), they all talk about how amazing Rodgers is. He certainly is and he certainly was in that game, but that’s my point: that’s what you get when you judge a guy based on the whole picture. With Luck, it seems many want to focus on a quarter or two of inconsistency rather than the whole picture. Does he need to become more consistent? Absolutely! But that shouldn’t become the entire narrative of one’s analysis of the quarterback.
So when we take a step back from the 2016 season and review, we get a clearer picture of the Colts’ quarterback, and that’s a picture of a player who bounced back in a huge way and was as good as ever. That’s an encouraging thing for Colts fans, and amidst all the other needs on this roster that need to be addressed, at least the Colts have this going for them: Andrew Luck is indeed a top-tier franchise quarterback.