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How Andrew Luck and Frank Reich Will Lead Colts to the Playoffs in 2018

When weighing some of the major flaws of the Colts from a year ago, against the strengths of Andrew Luck and Frank Reich, the Colts can’t be ruled out from making a playoff run

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard not to acknowledge what the Indianapolis Colts have been through over the past three seasons. Andrew Luck misses more than half of the 2015 season and starts 15 games in 2016, yet the team can only muster a .500 record between the two seasons. Then with Luck out for the 2017 season the Colts eek out only 4 wins — the fan base has had a rough go at it.

With that, widespread changes at the top and a deliberate move towards youth and development of talent, Colts fans are recharging a bit despite understanding the process could potentially be lengthy. GM Chris Ballard has told us as much and, for now, he’s being given a lot of rope by ownership and fans to build the roster his way.

But, there is an obvious mitigator as the Colts head into the 2018 season.

Andrew Luck is coming back, and aside from the fact that his abilities have been mysteriously forgotten by some in his absence, those following the team remember what he did with a hodge-podge roster in his rookie year and beyond. The Colts do have some pieces for Luck to work with, and the defense is in the process of figuring itself out, thus some will continue to overlook the potential on this roster.

By now we’re all very aware of the one-score losses (12) the Colts have suffered over the past two seasons. However, the common assumption that, had Luck been in the lineup instead of Brissett, a handful of the 6 one-score losses last season may have ended differently.

Possibly. Lest we forget that 6 of those were also from the 2016 season that Luck did play all but one game. Coaching was a real issue in both of those seasons, so with the play-calling likely being in much better hands combined with Luck’s return, these one score losses can now be repressed.

There are a couple of very specific issues, when looking at last year’s offensive performances that, with Luck in the mix, a more diverse and unpredictable game plan, will instantly change some of those outcomes.

Let’s take a look.

Colts Need Success in the Red Zone

There’s no mistaking that the red zone is one of the most crucial areas of the field in which the offense simply must be successful. The team can’t take losses; sacks, turnovers etc... and they absolutely have to put points on the board — touchdowns over field goals. Luck has, year in and year out, been one of the best in the league in this area.

Here is some of Luck’s production throughout his career, versus quarterbacks with at least 250 attempts.

  • 83 touchdowns — 10th among active QBs
  • 25.7% touchdown rate — 8th — (better than Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Cam Newton, Kirk Cousins and many more)
  • 6 interceptions (1.9%) — 4th between 2012-16
  • 95.6 QB rating — 10th
  • 14 rushing touchdowns — 3rd behind Cam Newton, Andy Dalton
  • 56.7% completion rate — 9th

Now let’s see how Brissett fared in the red zone last season versus QBs with 40 or more attempts.

  • 6 touchdowns — 31st
  • 15% touchdown rate — 29th
  • 1 interception (2.5%) — (8 QBs with more than 1, 20 QBs had 1 interception)
  • 37.5% completion rate — 26th
  • 75.3 QB rating — 26th
  • 123 passing yards — 29th (actual)
  • 4 rushing touchdowns — 6 rushing touchdowns led the league (T-5th)

Now, as you may be aware, Frank Reich was a heavy contributor to the Philadelphia Eagles’ gameplan under Doug Pederson. He assisted in the base gameplan, was considered to be the third-down coordinator (along with Pederson and Mike Groh being involved as well) and assisted John DeFilippo and Pederson in coordinating the red zone offense.

In the red zone, the Eagles finished the 2017 season:

  • 4th in first-down percentage
  • with zero turnovers
  • 3rd in touchdowns (36)
  • 1st in yards gained per play (3.56)

With all things considered, the red zone looks to be a strength for the Colts in 2018 as opposed to a complete dumpster fire as it was last season. Luck being paired with Reich will keep the Colts competitive in games throughout the season, even when they are largely overmatched.

The Colts 4th Quarter/OT Offense Must be Special

Again, this is an aspect of the Colts 2018 offense that must find success in order to put some wins together. The AFC South is an ascending division with better quarterback play and the defenses becoming competitive above and beyond the division.

When looking at how important a viable fourth-quarter offense can be for the Colts, they’ve certainly got their work cut out for them when matching up against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the foreseeable future. Last season, in the fourth quarter of games, the Jags were top-5 in yards allowed per play (4.68) and sacks (16), while staying in the top half of the league in turnover percentage (7th), first-down percentage (7th) and touchdowns allowed (14th).

The Houston Texans were also very formidable in this crucial stanza in games, though not quite as powerful. The Texans stayed in the top half of the league in 4 of these categories by being ranked 10th in first-down percentage, turnover percentage and touchdowns allowed, and were also 16th in fourth-quarter sacks.

The Titans, on the other hand, were quite a bit more vulnerable in the fourth quarter. The Titans only managed to enter the top half of the league in one, coming in at 14th in fourth quarter sacks.

Thus, if the 2017 season is any sort of an indicator, the Colts have two divisional foes in the Jaguars and Texans whom they’ll have to be on their game just to contend and one in which they’ll have to be in the mindset of taking advantage of their opponent’s weakness.

So, again, let’s look at how Luck has fared in the fourth quarter/OT throughout his career — versus other QBs with at least 400 attempts between 2012-16.

  • 42 touchdowns — 4th
  • 6.2% touchdown rate — 6th — (Note: Better percentage than Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Cam Newton)
  • 19 interceptions (2.8%) — T-15th (15th alone in INT%)
  • 7.4 Yards Per Attempt — T-10th
  • 251 first downs — 9th
  • 91.5 QB rating — 10th
  • 5,024 passing yards — 10th
  • NOTE: Luck has taken 38 fourth-quarter sacks in 70 regular season games (=4.375 16-game seasons | 8.68 times per season)

These are some pretty impressive numbers for a guy who most can’t seem to find room in their top-10 quarterback projections for the 2018 season. Don’t you think? Efficiency coupled with bulk numbers will be a dynamic addition to the offensive mind of Frank Reich going forward.

As you can see, Luck sits in the top 10 of all but one of these categories with the one relative blemish being his interception numbers. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that they aren’t something that needs to be turner around. They do.

It’s also quite obvious that his surrounding attributes mitigate his interceptions to a point, however, the fourth-quarter picks absolutely need to be cleaned up. They’ll lose as many games as his fourth-quarter touchdowns will win.

Now, let’s see about Brissett’s fourth-quarter/OT production from a year ago.

  • 1 touchdown — T-Dead last among QBs with 60 attempts
  • 5 interceptions — 27th — (Note: 3.3 INT%)
  • 5.4 Yards Per Attempt — 32nd
  • 39 first downs — T-17th
  • 58.2 QB rating — 23rd
  • 792 passing yards — 17th
  • 54.7% completion rate — 20th
  • NOTE: Brissett took 14 fourth-quarter sacks last season. Only Stafford and Dalton were sacked more. (15 games =.9375 16-game seasons | 13.125 fourth-quarter sack per season | Luck’s = 33.9% fewer fourth-quarter sacks per season)

We can blame the offensive line, we can blame the coaching, but both Luck and Brissett worked under the same coordinator and very comparable lines in terms of protection. People used to critique Luck for failing to hold onto the ball too long and then we witnessed Brissett virtually play an entire season with his hand and the ball displaying a relationship similar to that of velcro or super glue.

There’s a lot to take in, but it’s quite clear how much better Luck and Reich will make this offense. The line will be better, and the backfield appears to have the real potential of being far more dynamic — these are also very real factors in the offense’s viability. However, Luck takes this offense to a completely different level with his abilities.

Luck avoided a ton of sacks throughout his first 5 seasons, while Brissett tended to maneuver himself directly into them. This was once a critique of Luck as well. Brissett, meanwhile, showed us exactly how bad it could have been without Luck behind that line.

But, before we go, let’s take a look at how good the Eagles’ offense was last season in the fourth quarter and OT.

  • 5.33 Yards Per Play — 12th — .11 YPP from being top-10
  • 27.5% first-down rate — 14th — .8% from being top-10
  • 1.2% turnover rate — T-10th
  • 10 touchdowns — T-12th (12th alone TD%) — 1 TD from being T-10th/10th in %
  • 7 sacks allowed — T-9th

Granted these numbers could be better. But, all of them are still in the top half of the league and, for those that aren’t already, the rest aren’t far from being inside of the top 10 at all. Keep in mind that Carson Wentz missed 3 games last season due to his knee injury and that Nick Foles didn’t throw a single touchdown, threw for only 170 fourth-quarter yards (Drew Stanton had more) and 10 first downs (Bryce Petty had more).

This isn’t a knock on Foles, rather an indication as to how little the Eagles needed to be aggressive in the fourth quarter of the final 3 games of the season. They were already sitting at 11-2 and virtually locked in to a divisional crown.

At any rate, Luck and his determination to come back better than ever plus Reich’s system and his play-calling looks to be a match made in heaven for the 2018 season. Can the Colts be a playoff team as a result? You betcha!