There are a lot of opinions right now in regards to the Indianapolis Colts franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck. Most of the media — and now a healthy dose of Colts fans as well — are questioning the strength of the passer’s surgically repaired right shoulder.
The entrance of Jacoby Brissett to throw the Hail Mary in the waning moments of the Colts’ Week 3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles only made the conversation more unbearable. And now, most are left wondering why Luck and this offense appear to be less efficient and more of an issue than the team’s defense, which was supposed to be the unit that would take time to mesh.
Most might not be, but it seems as if a great deal of Colts fans are forgetting one of the most obvious reasons they feel they’re seeing a lack of aggression in Luck and the offense. First, head coach Frank Reich mentioned that his system would see to it that Luck was able to get the ball out of his hands quickly. He also suggested that this offense would be aggressive, multiple, and would attempt to eat up big chunks of yardage as well.
It’s fair that these two statements from the rookie head coach might be where the disconnect lies.
Of course there are additional circumstances: Anthony Castonzo has been sidelined, the right tackle position has been a bit of a turnstile already in this young season, and there’s a real lack of punch from the running game so far.
Reich did touch on some of this yesterday, and here’s what he had to say during availability.
About Andrew Luck receiving the balance of praise/blame —
“Andrew is playing good football. He made a lot of plays in this game that really gave us a chance to win. So, I am happy with the way he’s playing. We all wanted to do better than we did. I’m sure he would include himself in that, but overall I think he’s doing a lot of things. (He’s) handling the offense well.”
And about the optics of appearing to ‘check-down’ so often —
“Well, some of it in the last couple games is just fewer opportunities. So when you take out the red zone plays, when you take out the third down plays and when you take out the situational football and you look at the first and second down calls as far as chunk plays. I haven’t detailed this out, but just generally looking at our call sheet here from the last game... On first and second down there are plenty of calls down the field, taking shots. But if it’s not there – with the pass interference to T.Y. (Hilton). We had another double go route called where Andrew (Luck) got the ball hit out of his hand right as he was throwing it and had a couple other throws, play action shots and throws down the field where if it’s not there you just got to check it down. So you just credit the defense.”
I took the liberty of eliminating some of the redundancy in those statements, but that’s the meat and potatoes of those quotes. And Reich is correct, you can remember some of the plays he’s refering to, and thinking to yourself “yep, that was pretty obviously supposed to go deep and it didn’t pan out.”
On the other hand, we are also seeing Luck make plenty of mistakes that a quarterback with that mind and so physically gifted such as him should not be making. But, a few other things remain absolutely true regardless of whether or not we want to believe them. Luck isn’t going downfield often, he’s not putting much ‘stank’ on passes that truly need it (this is not a new issue, however), and the Colts’ offense is nowhere near where it needs to be if the Colts are going to make any noise this year.
If the Colts have any aspirations of a postseason berth, something is going to have to give. Luck has been sacked 5 times in three games, but has still taken 19 QB hits (19th). Should Reich/Luck sacrifice a sack or two more than they’re allowing per game right now in order to attack the opposing defenses a bit more?
I think it’s a reasonable question, but would the payoff truly net more touchdowns? I would think that it would, but I don’t truly know if that’d be the case or not.
The one thing that we must keep in mind right now is that we know what Andrew Luck brings to the table. He’s an amazing talent who hovers around 12 yards per completion for his career, has averaged about 4,300 passing yards when he’s played at least 15 games, has led the league in touchdown passes, and has the ability to be a clear top-5 passer in the league.
As much as some of what Luck does occasionally aggravates me, I can’t — even for a second — accept that he no longer possesses the ability to be the most deadly quarterback in the league. At any rate, let’s look at the general statistics for Luck and sort of cross-reference them with NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats just for the fun of it.
We often use yards per attempt or yards per completion to rationalize a common passing narrative, and sometimes to debunk it. Now, though, there are so many different stats that we can look to in order to attempt to shape our respective thoughts on a matter such as this.
Here we’ll look at Next Gen Stats (their glossary), and Luck’s general stats for a bit of clarity. Then again, maybe it’ll just muddy the waters for some. Anyhow, here we go.
Luck’s Next Gen Stats
Time to throw: 2.52 seconds (7th fastest)
Average intended air yards: 5.5 AYs (34th of 35)
Aggressiveness percentage: 16.95 (14th)
Air yards to sticks: - 2.1 yards (33rd)
Expected completion percentage: 67.8% (comp% = 68.5%)
Personally, from this group of stats, I get that Luck has indeed been getting the ball out quickly — mostly by design of course — which is a good thing if you’re on board with the selection of Quenton Nelson, keeping the opposing pass rush under control, and are in favor of Luck taking what the defense gives him on early downs, thus, getting into manageable third down situations more regularly.
On the other hand, we can’t presuppose anything about him getting ‘better’ protection from this stat. Luck has been hit 19 times, which seems to counter that argument.
Additionally, we’re seeing that Luck isn’t going down field hardly at all (intended Air Yards), he’s not attacking the first down marker with any regularity (Air Yards to Sticks) and there is a reliance on an underachieving unit of receivers to gain an unrealistic amount of yards after the catch to keep this offense competitive and on the field.
We also find that Luck is indeed more quantifiably accurate, and isn’t a victim of too many drops — don’t watch the Eagles game — or having a large number of accurate balls being knocked away by defenders. However, his aggressiveness percentage may be, in fact, skewed due to the receivers not getting separation early on in their routes. They’re being seen, or deemed aggressive, but it’s more likely a combination of a lack of receiver talent and some bad throws mixed in there.
Completion rate: 68.5% (10th)
Pass yards: 662 yards (23rd)
TD percentage: 4% (21st)
INT percentage: 2.4% (T-17th)
Yards per attempt: 5.3 yards (31st)
Adjusted yards gained per attempt: 5.1 yards (29th)
Yards per completion: 7.8 yards (32nd)
Pass yards per game: 220.7 yards (24th)
Net yards gained per attempt: 4.83 yards (28th)
Adjusted net yards per attempt: 4.56 yards (28th)
I can’t say that I expected there to be an AH HAH! moment in here somewhere between all of these numbers, but the general side of the statistical game looks even worse to me. Basically, it just confirms that Luck is checking down a lot, the receivers aren’t doing much after the catch, and that he’s probably thrown more interceptions than he should for running such a ‘conservative’ passing game.
The yardage monster that Luck is, is not putting up those numbers this year, his touchdown numbers are on the down side of average thus far, but hey, he’s been really accurate up to this point.
I know I tend to put a bit of a condescending tone to this, but the numbers are what they are, and the injury issues with the team, the offensive system, the talent level and everything else you want to add to it are all part of the formula.
For all of the negative that this puts forward, I do actually believe that Reich and Luck will work together with the offensive line, receivers and running backs coaches to improve their offensive game plan. Attempting to limit Luck’s hits, get the running game going, lighting a fire under the receiver room and STILL trying to get the offense to third-and-manageable at a high rate is going to be a hard trick to pull off.
But, we may at least start to see bits and pieces of alterations to the game plan as the weeks go by. Guys will get more comfortable up front, receivers more adept at getting open earlier in their routes and hopefully the running game will begin to take some of the pressure off. I think this is a reasonable assumption for the progression of Reich’s plan for the season, and I believe the Colts will need it in the back half of the season.