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Colts Film Room: Andrew Luck’s timing is key component in his improvement

We remember the bad from Week 3, but Andrew Luck showed us a healthy dose of why we always loved him too. Whichever wins out week to week is how we’re going to remember those games.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Luck’s Week 3 performance gave us a little bit of everything, and very little at all, all at once. Luck was 25-of-40 (62.5%) for 164 passing yards, and a touchdown, but between the lack of a real running game and some questionable decisions, the Indianapolis Colts offense simply sputtered on the road in Philly.

The arguments about Luck and the offense have been all over the place this week, which isn’t completely unfounded either way. The collective performance wasn’t inspiring by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ll still give you some of the good and bad that I saw after rewatching Luck in Week 3.

If you hated what the offense did, rest assured that it wasn’t quite as bad as you might remember. Conversely, if you liked the extreme dink-and-dunk results... well, it wasn’t good either. We’ll just leave it at that.

Luck eliminates half of his potential pass catchers immediately

Unfortunately, we’re going to look at the negative side of things first. Here we see Luck and the offense in a situation where they’ve struggled — backed up against their own goal line. This play is a 2nd-and-9 situation and the first thing that jumped off the screen to me was how Luck completely eliminated half of the field with how he sets his feet.

So, let’s follow Luck’s field of vision. Eric Ebron gets knocked off his route right after the snap, Luck sets his feet and now the only two receivers he has eyes on is T.Y. Hilton and Jordan Wilkins whom he sent in motion. Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers (green circle) are nearly pointless in the play which is a shame because there’s yardage to be had there.

I’m presuming here that Luck somewhat predetermined his read before the snap, and likely figured that he’d have a better chance for success due to what appears to be a lack of defenders to his right side of the field. The result, however, is that Hilton takes too long to come out of his break, and the only option he has left is Wilkins in the flat.

Due to the timing of it all, the Eagles’ defense had too much time to read the play and were quick to pursue to the ball, leaving Wilkins with little chance for success. I hate half-field reads and, quite honestly, don’t understand their intrigue at all.

Luck has the arm strength, he needs to use it

If there is one thing — stop me if you’ve heard this before — that annoys me to no end, it’s when Luck fails to use all of his physical abilities, especially when they’re needed. I’ll take those YOLO throws over him floating a 5-yard out route any day.

That’s exactly what we’re seeing above. Luck hits the third step of his drop, plants and releases the ball on this timing route to Hilton. Why not fire this? And no, I don’t think he has any limitations on what ultimately amounts to a 20-yard throw.

You can see the cushion that Hilton has as he comes out of his break to the boundary, Luck releases the ball on time — the velocity simply isn’t there. If this ball isn’t perfectly thrown from an accuracy standpoint, this is a pick-6. Definitely a play that shows off how a bit of good just barely negates a near critical mistake.

Way too loose with the ball in the red zone

Here is another example of Luck in a position where he needs to be efficient, and be a threat to the end zone, but simply cannot afford to throw the ball all willy-nilly on first-and-10 from the 15-yard line.

Something we’re seeing here, is very similar to what we saw in the very first clip. Luck eliminates everything to his left side, he has two options, and he throws to the one who just happens to have three defenders within a couple yards of him.

I hate everything about this throw. What could Ebron even hope to do in a best-case scenario after the catch here, had he made it? That’s right, nothing. If you’re going to pull this half-field stuff, why not at least throw to the guy with some space to make somebody miss in the open field?

This play has ‘nothing’ written all over it. And don’t mistake this for aggressive, because it’s not. It’s a terrible decision that could have been another red zone turnover.

Timing is everything

Believe me when I say, that this isn’t necessarily a point about a poor decision, rather this is the possible difference between a 20-plus-yard connection and a sack. One of the things that sort of goes by the wayside when discussing some of the things Luck hasn’t smoothed out quite yet, is the timing of his release.

I’ve noticed that he’s waiting for the receiver to get open as opposed to throwing them open, especially when that’s exactly what the play — and coverage — calls for. I pause this just after Luck hits the top of his 3-step drop out of the shotgun. If you look at where Ebron is as Luck should be firing down the middle of the field, you’ll see that there is a massive opening in the coverage for Luck to lead Ebron into.

There’s just the slightest of hesitation from Luck, he takes an additional hop up into the pocket, and by the time he goes to release this ball the pocket is no longer clean and there’s hands all in his vision. This ball never even comes out, and just like that, this play loses all of it’s potential.

This is something that I truly expect to get better with game reps. This is something I fully expected to see with Luck returning from such an extended absence. With that, throwing with anticipation is what makes the good quarterback great in this league, and right now Luck doesn’t have the confidence in himself to pull the trigger here. I’m very hopeful that will come very soon, though.

Easy pickings, turns to disappointment

Again, this is a 1st-and-10 situation in the red zone, and the play design is very nice. Additionally, Luck has made this throw a million times before. Out of a stack, Ebron gets a great release and goes straight up the seam. And just like that, Ebron has 3 yards on his defender.

Now, you may be thinking: “Well, what about the safety over the top?” I’m glad you asked. Watch Hilton on this route combination. He runs directly at him in order to keep him in the middle of the field and away from Ebron, acting as a decoy to give Luck a large window to throw into.

It certainly works, and Luck is on time with the throw, but he just floats it (again) and isn’t nearly accurate enough with the ball. This pass needs to go into the back of the end zone, and maybe even put a little air under it for Ebron to go up and get it. Instead, Ebron has to come back to it, allowing his coverage to catch up to the ball and taking a touchdown off the board.

This would have put the Colts up 20-13 in the final seconds of the third quarter and may have changed the outcome of the game.

A thing of beauty

This is as pretty a play as you’ll see, and it all starts as Luck plants his back foot at the top of his drop. Immediately, Luck has to step up into the pocket as the pressure off of the right edge is already nearly in his face. Luck not only steps up, but he continues to move towards the opening that Ryan Kelly and Matt Slauson help create using the defensive tackle’s own momentum.

Now that’s not ideal of course, but the Eagles drop 7 into coverage, and the Colts only have 2 receivers running routes here. The running back stays in, and the Colts are unbalanced to the left side of the formation. Nevertheless, Hilton and Grant run their routes to perfection, and with Luck moving vertically rather than laterally when he releases the ball, he is able to throw on time and with the right momentum to get the ball downfield accurately.

Watch at the second pause of the clip how, both, Grant and Hilton wait to break until the defenders turn their backs to the middle of the field. This is a beautiful play with the only issue being the immediate pressure off the edge.

Precision meeting effort

You’ve seen this play a thousand times before in the NFL, and primarily in the red zone. With this being the only time the Colts took care of business inside the Eagles’ 20-yard line all game, though, it’s pertinent.

Grant runs the route perfectly and Luck reciprocates with a beautifully placed fade. This looks an awful lot like an option route for Grant, though, and if it is I’d be curious — due to the playaction bringing the safety up — why he didn’t come across the middle on a slant. Darby never favored one way or the other until Grant broke off his route and there wouldn’t have been the barrier of the sideline to deal with. Just an observation.

Everything you want in the red zone except the actual catch

Red zone efficiency and third down opportunities are the world the NFL is built around. Offense’s have to be good on both to be successful, and here’s one where both are involved. This 3rd-and-4 from the 17-yard line is exactly what you’d expect, and perfect execution to counter it all up until the most important part of the play... catching the ball.

It really does work very well all the way through the play. I mean, Hilton and Ebron’s routes sucked the linebackers and the safety down, and allow Rogers to come open with nothing behind him. Lucks escapes the pocket and delivers a perfect ball on the move to his right. In the end, it failed, but not because of design or because Luck didn’t execute.

I actually hope to see this play again very soon.

Finding the voids in the zone and delivering

In our last clip we’re seeing a 2nd-and-10 situation as the Colts were driving down the field with just under 3 minutes to go in the game, down 16-20. This is not only a perfect drop in the bucket to Grant, but you can see the design behind it is such to hold the defenders in their initial drops in order to open up their zone.

As Luck gets to his drop and begins to step up to throw, you see Ebron on a short crossing route underneath, Chester Rogers is to get beyond the second level of the defense and then target the safety to finish his route, and Grant runs that 15-yard square in the Colts like so much.

With this route combination, the Eagles’ linebacker has to stay shallow at the sticks for Ebron if Luck hits him, but what it also does is allows Grant to sneak in behind that linebacker and give Luck the option of going shallow, or to drop the ball in between the second and third levels of the defense.

Naturally, he chose the more difficult of the two options, but it definitely offered the most upside as well. This was a perfect ball to Grant who picked up 22 yards, and it was Luck’s eyes that do the job, without him having to tip anything off. If you notice, Ebron and Grant are ultimately in the same line of site as Grant is breaking at the top of his route.

This is really good design, and was perfectly executed by Luck and the receivers. It’s too bad that it didn’t produce a touchdown.

All in all, when we look back at this game it won’t be remembered well. However, Luck did have plenty of good in this game, it’s just more difficult to see it sometimes because of the expectations we (I) have for him at this point. If a few things go differently, Luck hits on one of a few big-play attempts. On the other hand, he’s still got a lot to eliminate from his game to get back to where he was in 2016.