One interesting game from this last season that made one team look a lot better than the other was the Week 14 Indianapolis at Cincinnati match. The Bengals won 48-28, kicking off a hot streak of 4-straight 30+ point games to end the season. That win, along with home wins over Green Bay in Week 3 and New England in the driving rain of Week 5, were the the Bengals only victories over playoff teams this season.
For the Colts, the blowout loss happened in the middle of a 4-4 stretch when the offense caved without Reggie Wayne and the defense looked solved as teams figured Robert Mathis as the only potent pass rusher. During these 8 games, the Colts were outscored by a whopping 63 points, including losses to the Chargers, Rams, Cardinals, and of course, Bengals. In fact, the Colts' season-long point differential of +55 is worse than every playoff team except Green Bay (for obvious reasons) and San Diego.
Of course, there are extraneous reasons for those losses, including the aforementioned Wayne injury. But the Colts' young signal caller, Andrew Luck, has not been above reproach. Despite posting a decent win total for the second straight year, Luck was only 16th in Football Outsiders DVOA. Look at some of the stats:
Player A is 2012 Andrew Luck and Player B is the 2013 version. Luck is throwing less, but completing significantly more passes and making better decisions with the ball - an interception rate below 2.0% is really elite. Luck is still the most hit QB in the league, but his sack numbers are down.
But who is Player C? This guy doesn't throw a lot but when he does, he's even better than Player B. He is superior in every single rate statistic besides sack %, and his 6.5 yards/attempt rushing average helps offset that. This line represents Andrew's stats for the 7 games he played this year with Reggie Wayne, pro-rated for a full 16 game season. Player D represents the 9 games Luck played after Wayne was hurt. It's not surprising that losing the best receiver makes a QB worse - something similar has happened to Colin Kaepernick with Michael Crabtree - but Luck without Wayne has been really bad. His 5.31 Adjusted Net Yards / Attempt (the bold column) is not only the lowest one of this sample set, but is the worst among the starting QB's I analyzed earlier in the Nick Foles post. Even RG3's 5.48 mark this season is better.
Let's look at the tape from the Cincy loss and try to see where Luck is at developmentally and why his numbers have declined. I watched every pass from this game multiple times; I'll post only the interesting throws for brevity (a total of 49 dropbacks):
Jump straight to the Conclusion
Good footwork allows Luck to throw with his natural motion, again keeping the ball high near his ear.
I'll stop there. Luck had a number of nice throws after this point, but the Cincy defense retreated into a shell up 14 points, and a lot of throws were checkdowns to running backs (though to be fair, they were well-thrown checkdowns that saw Luck make numerous footwork adjustments).
- Brilliant footwork. Unlike other QBs that have struggled with drop-backs (Kaepernick), feet/hips (Newton, Griffin), Andrew Luck consistently exhibited good footwork. His flips moved fluidly left and right and followed his eyes through his reads.
- Pocket presence. Luck showed great confidence in the pocket, stepping into all of his throws, even after sacks or hits. He slid into spaces with small steps and without taking his eyes of the field, something Newton, Kaepernick, Griffin, and Foles all tended to do.
- Looking off safeties. Again and again, Luck would set up defenders with his drop or his eyes. He rarely left his eyes glued to his intended receiver.
- Advanced ability to recognize coverages and get through reads. His ability to understand not only his offense but defensive coverages allowed him time to look defenders off. He was able to quickly identify secondary reads targets on a consistent basis.
- Good accuracy and touch. Numerous throws were only his guy could reach the ball. Consistently released the ball high. I would say his arm is not as strong/accurate as Griffin/Newton/Kaepernick, but because his motion is more consistent, he delivers more balls on target than those guys.
- Athleticism. He is really, really hard to bring down. Reminds me a lot of Ben Roethlisberger.
- Short throws. Luck missed a few of these. In some instances, it seems like his timing/chemistry with the receivers is off and he rushed/gunned some throws. I wasn't watching for their route running; bad routes can easily throw off timing, but something Andrew can work on.
- Gunslinger. Luck sometimes tries to fit passes into windows that aren't there. He also was very aggressive on some throws where shorter passes for 1st downs were available. He also has a tendency, when the defense drops a lot of guys back, to pump a few times and try to find an open man. He didn't take any sacks this game, but several big hits could have easily turned into sacks.
- Overthrows. He missed only a few receivers high, but I've noticed that Luck has a tendency to overthrow guys in the intermediate, 10-20 yard range. He has good touch on deeper throws, but needs to work on improving that touch to all areas of the field.
- Indy Running Backs. Were horrible. Luck was the leading rusher on the day; everyone else averaged 3.1 yards/carry. The backs even missed some assignments in pass blocking. They contributed some yards receiving, but most of those were checkdowns in garbage time.
- Indy Receivers. Dropped numerous passes. Granted the coverage was good, but many of these were balls thrown beyond the reach of corners and safeties. A couple big TD plays doesn't make up for a lack of consistency.
- Cincy Coverage. Was solid the whole game. Luck was throwing a lot of guys open.
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