Why Matt Hasselbeck is a better fit for Colts right now than Andrew Luck
Matt Hasselbeck is not a better quarterback than Andrew Luck, but this season he has been a better answer for the Colts at quarterback.
The Colts are 6-5 with a share of first place in the AFC South, and four of those wins have come with Hasselbeck as starter. He is undefeated this season as a starting quarterback, while Luck has largely floundered to a 2-5 record in an injury-marred campaign.
Injuries don’t explain all of Luck’s poor play (believe it or not, Luck is PFF’s lowest-ranked quarterback this year with a grade of 47.3), but they likely played their part in the struggles.
The reason that Hasselbeck has been so successful within the offense, though, is that the Colts play a completely different style when he is under center compared to what they run when Luck is.
Before this season Luck was seen as this indestructible force at the position. He was young, built solidly, and was prepared to hang in the face of pressure for receivers to uncover downfield and take a hit if it meant delivering a strike to his receivers.
Hasselbeck doesn’t have the physical gifts Luck does, so he gets by with the stuff north of his shoulders instead. Hasselbeck gets the ball out quickly, mitigating pressure and the chance he’ll take hits at all by minimizing the time defenders have to get anywhere near him.
Over the season Luck’s average time to throw is 2.67 seconds, which is slower than all but four other quarterbacks. Hasselbeck’s average is just 2.32, faster than all but five others.
Hasselbeck gets the ball out by being a little less aggressive down the field than Luck is. While Luck’s average depth of target is 10.1 yards down field (in the top 10 of the NFL), Hasselbeck’s is 7.8 — 27th in the NFL and approaching Alex Smith territory.
When you factor in drops, it’s clear that the Hasselbeck approach is far more efficient. Luck has been accurate on 65.0 of his passes this season, but Hasselbeck is more than 10 percent better at 76.1. Even ignoring drops, his completion percentage is almost seven points better.
But the biggest boost this shift in philosophy has on the team is what it does to the offensive line, which has a far easier time protecting for Hasselbeck than it does for Luck. Over the four games Hasselbeck has started, the Colts’ line has a pass-blocking efficiency of 84.0 – the best in the NFL. Over the games Luck has started, the O-line’s PBE is just 74.5, which is 25th. The Colts have surrendered 33 total pressures over the time Hasselbeck has started (8.3 per game), but 111 when Luck has been the quarterback (almost double the rate at 15.9).
Nobody will argue that a 40-year old Matt Hasselbeck is a better quarterback than Andrew Luck, but Luck has not been himself this season and the Colts have struggled in key areas more than in previous years. Watching Luck try and right the ship this season has largely been like watching a man try and push his car out of the mud – the harder he fought the deeper he sank, while the wheels just spun in place.
Hasselbeck brings something different to the team, and in this case different is just better for the Colts right now.