Colts’ O-line improvement major factor in Andrew Luck’s hot start

Andrew Luck recorded the league's top QB grade in Week 1; Sam Monson breaks down the performance.

| 9 months ago
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Colts’ O-line improvement major factor in Andrew Luck’s hot start

Even the most die-hard of Colts fan must have had a small pang of anxiety waiting for the return of Andrew Luck this season, given the way he ended the previous one.

Luck, a player that has never quite reached his potential as the best QB prospect to come along since Peyton Manning, was a disaster in 2015. Injuries certainly played a big part in that before eventually shutting him down, but he was also sinking in the deep water for the first time in his career independent of any injury woes.

For the first time, Luck wasn’t able to deal with the torrent of defensive pressure that was coming down on him consistently, and the team’s gameplan of avoiding significant investment in the O-line because “Luck will deal with it” fell apart. He couldn’t deal with it, threw a dozen interceptions in just seven starts, and then went on the IR.

Luck blew all of those concerns out of the water with his return in Week 1, posting the best performance of his career, albeit in a losing effort to the Detroit Lions.

Andrew Luck grades

The fifth-year Indianapolis QB completed 31 of 43 pass attempts (66.0 percent) for 385 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. He also led what could—perhaps should—have been a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter, only to see the Colts’ defense capitulate in the final 37 seconds, allowing the Lions to snatch the win back with a 43-yard Matt Prater field goal.

Trailing 34-28 with 4:04 left on the clock, Luck led a 75-yard drive, completing five of five pass attempts for 53 passing yards and the go-ahead touchdown. This was vintage—clutch—Andrew Luck at his best, with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, and it deserved a better result to come out of it. It’s also a pretty good reason why judging a QB on wins alone is an asinine method of evaluating them; Luck leads a potential game-winning drive and scores with 37 seconds left on the clock, but his defense can’t hold up and he comes out a loser.

All last season, while Luck was struggling under pressure and still trying to force the ball downfield, it seemed like the Colts needed to adjust the gameplan and get the ball out quicker. When Matt Hasselbeck replaced the injured Luck in 20105, he was able to have success with a markedly quicker release time. While Luck averaged 2.66 seconds per pass attempt (sixth-slowest in the league), Hasselbeck was at 2.35 (seventh-fastest). Luck was firing downfield with an average depth of target of 10.1 yards (sixth highest), while Hasselbeck’s was just 7.9 (29th-highest).

Against Detroit, though, the gameplan hadn’t changed. Luck’s average depth of target against the Lions was 11.3 yards, and his average time per pass attempt was 2.66, identical to a year ago. The only changes were that Luck was once again back to his best, and that the offensive line was significantly better at protecting him.

The Colts have made investments in that line, with first-round rookie center Ryan Kelly the most notable, and it resulted in Luck being pressured on just 29.4 percent of his dropbacks against the Lions. If that rate holds up over the season, it would mark the first time in his career that the number has been less than 30 percent of his dropbacks. In fact, it would be the best figure by a clear six percent, as every other year of his career has been somewhere between 36.2 and 40 percent. The line still isn’t exactly good, but it’s at least taken a major step forward from bad.

Colts’ offensive line grades versus the Lions

While Luck may never have quite lived up to his potential in the past—and there has always been a greater volume of “bad Luck” in his play than people like to recognize—it’s impossible to accurately describe how much of that is influenced by poor protection on his offensive line. Not necessarily on any single play, but what effect the overall feeling of insecurity in the pocket has on him. Even if Luck doesn’t improve from the level we have seen in the past on a tangible, individual level, we may well see a significant improvement in his play if the O-line protecting him can sustain the development they showed in the first game of 2016.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • David Japhet-Mathias

    While this line looks good, the RT grade has to be worrying considering he would be going against Von Miller next week.

    • Amanda Richard

      Colts drafted an RT at the end of the 3rd. Le’Raven Clark, according to many reports had a 1st round potential, but dropped to a 2nd or 3rd, depending on the source, because he was a Texas Tech guy, and their blocking system doesn’t translate well – meaning Clark was a project with a ceiling as high as anyone. Reports are that he’s done very well thus far, but it’s likely that he won’t see playing time early on this season. Perhaps mid-year or, more likely, next year.

      Reitz has been serviceable. He plays better at G, but for whatever reason, his health holds up better when he’s on the outside.

      • Tim Edell

        PFF had Le’Raven Clark as a vastly overrated prospect. After watching him play in college he has a long long way to go technique wise. Not saying he wint develop but yes he is definitely at least a year away.

  • Tanner

    Guys, Jack Mewhort didn’t play this game.

    • crashby89

      Huh? Mewhort was in for every snap of the game.

    • Tim Edell

      He played the whole game Junior?!?!!?

    • Craig Sweany

      Guys, Tanner has no clue what he is talking about.

  • AJ

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I fear that Andrew Luck will fall victim in the same manner as Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning during his Colts career. All are great QBs that play in poorly run organizations that put weak rosters together year after year. Their organizations are basically wasting their talents away.

    I’ve often said that leaving Indy for Denver might just be the best thing that ever happened to Peyton. He never would have made it to 2 more Super Bowls with one win had he stayed in Indy. Yes, the Colts invested in a small handful of star players, but outside of those small few, the rest of the roster was always barren. That’s not much different from what is going on there nowadays.

    Through no fault of his own, Luck will probably not win anything as long as Grigson is the GM.

    • Amanda Richard

      Missing on 2 first round picks in 2013 and 2014 (traded for Trent Richardson) was a significant setback. Obviously the whole 2013 class was a bust. The 2013 class across the league was notoriously a bad draft class, called one of the all-time-worst by some. So it’s not surprising it didn’t work out for us, though you wish you could say that you had at least one or two guys that stuck with the team. Not absolving Grigson, just putting it in context.

      Besides that class, he has generally drafted well in the later rounds. The 2015 class in particular has been very good. Mewhort and Moncrief are looking like above average starters from the 2014 class. I’m not terribly concerned about Grigson’s drafting from the 2nd round and beyond. He’s done well there. But you gotta hit on your first rounders, and busting on 2 out of 4, in back to back classes no less, kills the progress of your roster talent.

      If you had a time machine and could trade back in 2013 and pick up Kawaan Short and not trade your 2014 first and instead take Deone Bucannon in 2014, that drastically changes the landscape of our defense. Still no pass rush, but you at least have future picks that you aren’t forced to hit on and perhaps trade for Chandler Jones. You miss out on TJ Green, but I’d rather have Jones than Green and stick with Geathers.

      • Nelson Cobb

        And although I feel Dorsett is gonna be a great WR, it was a luxury pick that the Colts didn’t have the luxury to make. On top of some bad drafting early, there’s also been some ignorant drafting. Glad to see that Grigson at least made a sensible pick this year. Instead of Dorsett, they could have drafted Damarious Randall, who had a strong rookie year and had the best week 1 of all CB’s vs some great WRs. Although, I’m glad they didn’t make that pick. There was Landon Collins. Ronald Darby. Eddie Goldman. Eric Kendricks. Donovan Smith. Mitch Morse. So many solid players they could have had to help that defense or that Oline, and they pick a WR, a year after drafting Moncrief and just after signing Andre Johnson to a 3 year deal. That was just one of the most senseless picks ever. Hell, has their 2nd round pick from last year even played a down yet??? They really needed to get rid of Grigson, yet they gave him an extension until 2020.