There’s inevitably a level of disrespect for the Indianapolis Colts, and their quarterback, year in and year out. The narrative of ‘he can’t win the big one’ that followed Peyton Manning for years despite being one of the best to ever play the game. And now we’re in the midst of more of that directed squarely at Andrew Luck with the team’s decline over the past couple seasons.
Never mind that Luck began his career 33-15, throwing for 12,957 yards, 86 touchdowns on 1,062 completions all while being sacked 100 times through his first three seasons in the league with some just god awful rosters. He did receive praise for his ability to lift the team up and carry it on his shoulders at the time, but now following two 8-8 seasons that all seems to be forgotten.
There’s no mistaking that Luck didn’t put a good holistic stat line together in his 7 games throughout the 2015 season. He was notably off, forcing passes when he shouldn’t and putting his body at risk at an alarming rate. He was seeing ghosts in the pocket, and even running himself into pressure quite a bit.
However, it’s hard to argue that the Colts would have beaten the Denver Broncos, taken the Carolina Panthers to overtime or given the New England Patriots a legit game (27-34) – which the Colts hadn’t previously done since 2012 – without Luck in the lineup. Luck was definitely struggling against the lesser competition, though; it can’t be denied.
Last year Luck bounced back with a significant uptick in his play. He appeared more sure of himself, taking intelligent risks and was more accurate than he’d been in his career – not to mention he was 6th in the league in NFL.com’s ‘Air-Yards to the Sticks’ compilation on third downs in 2016, showing his aggression to move the ball consistently on late downs.
But, how – you ask – did he compare to the rest of the league when looking at all significant statistics? Well, I looked at most of them anyhow. Something that I’d put together when studying quarterbacks in the past was something I named the MVQB. Trying to get a big-picture view of how each quarterback performed throughout the season was important.
For example, I wanted to see how effective each was in the red zone, on late downs with more than 6 yards to go, accuracy, air yards, touchdown-to-interception percentage differentials as well as using win percentage to a lesser degree. There were additional basic statistics involved as well, but I tried to weigh the most important towards success the most.
Here’s what I found when taking that big-picture approach towards Luck’s 2016 season.
In trying to convert the statistics into palpable numbers for comparison, I weighted each accordingly to achieve a tangible final product. When looking at the way the top-10 in the league shook out, it may just surprise some of the Luck naysayers.
In the end, among the 26 qualifying quarterbacks, Luck finished in the top-five in the league in three of the major categories – air yards (4th), passing yards compared to games played (5th) and his production in the red zone (3rd). Luck was also tied for seventh in both comparing touchdown-to-interception percentage and net adjusted passing yards per attempt, and was in seventh alone in third down production on passes with 6 yards or more to go to achieve first downs.
The only two categories in which Luck didn’t fall into the top-10 were completion rate, despite his best career numbers to date (63.5%), and win percentage, as he was 15th and T-14th respectively. This alone puts Luck’s average position, just in rank, at 7.75 without considering the actual numbers being calculated.
Image Legend: Yellow = Top Number | Blue = Top 5 | Red = Below League Median
After the actual numbers were calculated you can see what they’ve come out to show. Luck was a top-5 quarterback in the league when combining these individual formulas. While the quarterbacks ranked 6-10 appear to be pretty close in their final tallies, the top-5 have somewhat significant cushions from one spot to the next.
Naturally there are other categories in which Luck excelled amongst quarterbacks with at least 300 pass attempts. He threw 61 passes of at least 20 yards last year, good for 4th in the league, and was also 4th in the league in first down percentage, 9th in passer rating and 5th in passing touchdowns. Not a bad year, huh…
So, why all the hate?
To be perfectly honest, I think it’s likely for the same reasons that we, as fans, criticize Luck. I see our collective critiques as being voiced to point out where Luck can improve and the hope for him to get over the desire to never let go of a play regardless of how bleak the opportunity for success may be.
Nationally, and amongst other fan bases expecting perfection from everyone, Luck’s downfalls are seen as the demise to this profession only five years in to what appears to be an extremely bright career path. This ultimately is the culmination of nearly any, and every, argument when one group wants to downplay minimal areas of one player’s game and another offers a bit of context to simmer the negativity.
Attempting to quantify what a player brings to his team in the realm of intangibles will defy all of us for years to come, but when you dig a bit deeper – all inclusively – the results will become a little clearer.
To say Luck is a perennial top-5 quarterback in this league is certainly arguable; in fact there’s plenty that says he’s not quite yet. But, to affirm that he wasn’t in 2016, or doesn’t have the physical skills, football IQ and in-game command of the Colts’ offense to be one very soon, is simply lazy and blind to what is evident from the franchise quarterback of the organization.
Matt Danely (@MDanely_NFL) is a contributing writer for @StampedeBlue, Indianapolis Colts Analyst for FanRag Sports and host of the Locked On Colts Podcast (@LockedOnColts).