There was quite the difference in approach from Week 1 to Week 2 for Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts’ offense. Luck threw the ball 53 times against the Bengals whereas he only put the ball in the air 31 times against the Redskins.
Within this offense designed by Frank Reich, Luck sits at a completion rate of 71.4 percent and has thrown 4 touchdowns thus far. Luck has also thrown 3 interceptions through two weeks of play. Two of those picks were awful throws and should never have happened, but the third was a tipped ball which involve a high level of luck once the ball’s path changes direction. I can’t get myself to knock Luck for those sort of interceptions.
Luck is having a very good start to the season, so even though we’re going to look at some negative plays/decisions that Luck is making, the overwhelming percentage of his play has been very good. With that, let’s take a look at a few of Luck’s throws from the Colts Week 2 victory in Washington.
Luck opening it up downfield
Two things you love to see in this first clip is the offensive line protecting Luck in order for him to make this throw, and Luck choosing to take the shot downfield and trusting T.Y. Hilton to beat his man after the ball is released.
Additionally, it was the right decision for Luck as you can see the rest of the receivers didn’t really get themselves open on this second-and-9 play. This is what we have come to expect from Luck and Hilton and the offense’s need to put point on the board with ‘chunk plays.’
The ball travels about 50 yards through the air — no worries about his arm strength — and it was put right on the money for the most part. Hilton had his man beat despite him having a large cushion and Luck knew that Hilton would have either beat him straight up, or the defender would have to hold in order to stay in the play.
Luck was right, and though nobody gets the yards for this play, the ball still moves down the field which is ultimately all that matters when it comes to challenging the defense and putting points on the board.
Eye discipline simplified
Initially when you watch this play, you just look at it being overthrown a bit, and maybe that Luck doesn’t take his eyes off of Jack Doyle throughout the route. That’s what I thought at least, but after looking at it a couple more times, I realized that Luck staring down the right side of the field actually works for this route combination.
As you can see there’s a levels approach to this play construction, and resembles the flood/sail concept in that regard. Luck does indeed keep his eyes to the right from snap to release, but it’s by design. The Skins send a rush from the nickel position, thus leaving the rest of the secondary in man coverage and three routes to cover with discipline.
Luck does have his eyes set to the right, but the routes are all playing off of each other close enough to where it’s difficult to pinpoint who Luck is actually looking to target here. Eric Ebron is running the 5-yard out, Doyle is running a corner route and Hilton does well in running off his coverage deep and Luck has enough time to make a decision and get the ball out.
Ebron, despite his weird attempt at this route, sucks his defender down with him into the flat, Hilton is always a threat deep and this leaves Doyle wide open heading towards the boundary. The two keys here are Hilton sucking his guy inside the numbers throughout his route, and Luck seeing Josh Norman fully committed to running with Hilton. This gives Luck his timing on the throw and it’s done perfectly.
Of course the one downfall here is that Luck overthrows Doyle. If Luck puts a bit more air under the ball and doesn’t take a shot to the chest as he releases the ball, this is an easy completion and Doyle would have room up the sideline to earn some YAC as well.
The really bad throw from Week 2
Look, I get that this is about as much of a bang-bang play as it gets in the NFL. Luck begins to get some pressure and didn’t have a lot of time to think about a secondary option. But, for this clip — and the next one as well — it appears that Luck is predetermining who he wants to push the ball to before the ball is snapped.
Watch Luck’s eyes. This isn’t the same kind of combination of routes as the Doyle attempt on the last example, these routes are spread throughout the field pretty good. In a nutshell you’re seeing three verticals here with a drag underneath. Luck’s eyes stay to the middle of the field and is clearly wanting Hilton to be open here, but that’s simply not the case.
D.J. Swearinger (red circle) is in a single-high look, and is focused in on Luck’ eyes the entire time, and breaks on the ball as soon as it’s released. Ultimately, Hilton has no chance at this ball.
Now, had Luck not been so determined to throw to Hilton he would have been able to check the ball down to the running back even earlier than he releases the pass in this case. It was never there. Luck forced this pass, and his running back has nobody covering the left (Luck’s left) side of the field.
A lot goes into this one that Luck should have considered. It’s third down with 10 yards to go, so the defense is prepared for at least an intermediate throw here. Next, the field position is a major factor as well. Regardless of which down it is, Luck cannot throw this ball into the middle of the field deep in his own territory.
This is a big no-no, and I really hope that Luck gets a stern finger in his face from Reich about it this week. The Colts are up 14-3 at this point in the game. Good teams will put 7 on the board and it’s an instant momentum killer for a team driving to extend their lead.
Luck can’t force throws in negative territory
This was nearly gift-wrapped for the Skins to get another touchdown in this game. Luck follows up his fantastic initial drive of the game with a terrible throw that had no business being thrown at all — at least to Hilton. Luck isn’t under any pressure, Hilton’s coverage is very clearly forcing him to beat him deep with the safety help over the top, and Luck would basically have had to throw it through the defender in order to complete this pass.
On the other hand, you have Ryan Grant (green circle) who is facing off-man coverage on a short square-in who comes open on the outside. Again, we see questionable decision-making from Luck deep in his own territory. These cannot continue to come up throughout the season.
In 2016, two of the reasons he had such a phenomenal year was because of his excellence in the red zone, and deep in negative field position. This year we’re seeing some bad habits being formed that could cost the Colts a game. This may just be Luck’s largest concern this season with a defense that can’t afford to be gassed when they take the field, or be consistently relied upon to defend short fields against experienced NFL quarterbacks.
This play not only has great design to it, but Luck shows off his ability to put the ball into a very short window with amazing precision. The Skins’ defensive alignment helps the Colts here as well, and Luck makes them pay.
Luck gets a very clear indication that the Skins are at least largely in man coverage as Swearinger is in a single-high look. Luck expects a safety blitz here, and luckily Marlon Mack does his job and picks up the free rusher.
Grant is at the bottom of the screen and runs off his coverage while the trio of Doyle, Chester Rogers and Hilton are tight to the formation in bunch. Luck’s five-step drop here is set up perfectly for the timing of Hilton to break open crossing the field with no underneath zone coverage to throw around.
Even with Hilton’s coverage (Josh Norman) very close behind him, Luck puts this ball in the perfect spot for Hilton to make the over-the-shoulder catch and get some yardage after the catch. It looks simple, but hitting Hilton in stride with Norman trailing closely behind him, all with a blitz coming up the middle of the pocket is not an easy ask.
It’s not flashy, but this is a thing of beauty by Luck and we should expect to see a heavy dose of similar plays in Week 3 against an Eagles’ defense that is very familiar with these passing concepts.
All in all, we’re seeing Luck work well within Reich’s system as it opens up very quick, accurate passing opportunities for him to get into a legitimate rhythm throughout the game. Luck’s arm isn’t an issue, his ability is clear and present, but he is still a work in progress as he comes back and needs to clean up some of his decision making. Otherwise, we should expect a very good season from Luck.