Colts QB Andrew Luck finally playing up to hype
Andrew Luck dominated the New York Jets on Monday night, and is putting together the best season of his career from a performance perspective. He has now moved into the No. 2 spot in Pro Football Focus’ quarterback grades for the season, with a mark of 91.4, trailing only Tom Brady (94.9).
The New York Jets are a disaster right now, so it’s important not to get too carried away with this one result and performance. We can, however, even against opposition such as the Jets, focus in on Luck’s weaknesses. In the past, he has always been a frustrating quarterback because, as high as the highs in his game always were, he missed too many routine passes that always seemed like a cap on just how good the 2012 No. 1 overall pick could be.
With the exception of the 2015 season that quickly descended into a disaster, Luck’s career trajectory had only been heading up, and he had been getting better each season, but the single-biggest issue was always the mistakes that a player of his caliber shouldn’t make. Whether they were poor decisions with the ball or simple routine inaccuracy, there was always more bad than an elite QB typically has offsetting the good he brought to the table.
Against the Jets in Week 13, Luck completed 78.6 percent of his passes. He had just six incompletions, two of which were dropped, and one was batted at the line. Of the three other incompletions, one was broken up by Jets CB Darrelle Revis on a slant, meaning Luck only actually missed his receiver twice in the game, which would have seemed thoroughly incredible looking at any previous year of his career.
Needless to say, because it was the Jets, the passes he did complete went for significant yardage and production. Luck racked up 278 yards (9.9 per attempt), four scores, didn’t throw an interception, and had an overall passer rating of 147.6 for the game; the key thing to pay attention to, though, was how mistake-free his play was.
On passes over 10 yards in the air, Luck was perfect, hitting on seven-of-seven attempts for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
This was one of the best games of his season, but if we look at the year as a whole, we can still see the changes, meaning they aren’t all a product of a terrible New York Jets team looking like it didn’t really want to be there on Monday night.
This season, when kept clean in the pocket, Luck has completed 72.4 percent of his passes. That’s eighth in the league, but represents an improvement on nearly 4 percent from his 2014 numbers, more than 4 percent on 2013, and almost 12 percent from his rookie year. I eliminated 2015 because of what a complete anomaly that season was for Luck and the Colts from a circumstances point of view, but if you’re curious, last season he was accurate on just 65.2 percent when kept completely clean in the pocket, 29th in the league.
That inaccuracy even when throwing from a clean pocket was always an issue in his game, and it wasn’t simply a product of throwing deep more than anybody else on passes that simply have a lower expected completion rate. In fact, Luck’s biggest struggles seem to be tied to how much that balance gets out of whack, and he finds himself going deep down the field too often.
This year, Luck’s average depth of target is 8.8 yards downfield—17th furthest in the NFL—and his three best seasons have all been in a 1-yard range, between 8.4 and 9.2 yards, on average. His rookie season and disastrous 2015 campaign were both above 10 yards and inside the top six league wide. Luck was widely lauded for that rookie campaign, but his PFF grade was significantly lower than the hype would suggest (69.3), and he was only the 22nd-highest-graded QB that year. In fact, Luck was the fourth-best graded rookie QB that season, and much of the difference may have been due to allowing himself to be too aggressive with his downfield passing and not taking advantage enough of the higher-percentage plays available to him, something he rectified in the following seasons.
The fact that he has been able to not only find the sweet spot in terms of passing balance within this offense, but also eliminate many of the mistakes that have hampered his efficiency is huge for his ceiling. Luck has always had the ability to make plays and passes that very few quarterbacks on this planet can make, but his ceiling was never in question—only how high could he raise his floor.
This season, Luck seems to have raised it higher than ever before, and though the Colts’ roster isn’t in the best shape it has ever been during his tenure there, they are 6-6 and tied for the AFC South lead. With Luck playing this well, Indianapolis is a team that can be dangerous in the playoffs. Luck has almost single-handedly taken down teams in the postseason before, and he is playing better now than he ever has in the past. Andrew Luck just may be on the verge of fulfilling his sky-high potential.