Film Room: Andrew Luck

Film Room: Andrew Luck
Film Room: Andrew Luck
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Cian Fahey

Andrew Luck was awful in 2015. Truly awful. "One of the worst starters in the league" awful. Ryan Lindley aw—well, maybe not that bad. Luck spent the 2015 season making bad decisions, missing open receivers and generally reacting poorly to pressure. He led the league in Interceptable Pass Rate (courtesy of the Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue) while throwing 12 interceptions in just seven games. That's a dozen picks on 293 pass attempts during the regular season; meanwhile, 10 other quarterbacks attempted at least 400 passes and didn't throw as many interceptions as Luck did. He averaged a career-low 6.4 yards per attempt, while completing just 55.3 percent of his passes. Luck at least threw for 15 touchdowns, but everything about his season was a departure from his career to that point.

The Colts aren't concerned. In fact, Jim Irsay is talking about giving the 26-year old a huge contract extension this offseason. "It's going to be a shocking number, nine figures and probably a $20 million starting point per year," the Colts owner said. It's fashionable to give your starting quarterback a monstrous contract extension these days, but that doesn't mean it's always a smart move. With Luck under contract for one more year and the franchise tag option from that point onwards, the Colts don't have to be in a rush to tie Luck down. The benefits of giving him the contract should be obvious; they will have secured the future of their franchise quarterback and settled any concerns he may have moving forward. Luck would be able to fully focus on improving as a quarterback, putting the Colts as a whole in the best position to succeed.

Regardless of how the market is forcing teams to be aggressive in re-signing their starters, the Colts shouldn't have any qualms about giving Luck a huge deal.

He may have been truly awful in 2015, but Luck was also hurt. Long before he appeared on the official injury report for the first time in October, Luck was showing signs of physical restraint. The first overall pick from the 2012 draft wasn't moving as comfortably as he had in previous seasons; he wasn't showing off the same control in his throwing motion and was more wary of taking hits from arriving defenders. Through the first three years of his career, those were three areas where Luck excelled. He has always mitigated pressure in the pocket with his movement, comfortably delivering the ball with hands in his face while shifting his weight to work through traffic. His arm talent to push the ball into tight windows downfield was always highlighted by a snappy, instantaneous release that created sustained velocity to all levels of the field.

While those traits were constant, Luck's development as a passer came more gradually. The Colts have never asked Luck to play in a short-passing, shotgun-heavy system that emphasizes efficiency. As such, he has always been put in situations where he had to work under pressure while throwing into tight windows downfield. Those situations typically lead to more incompletions and interception opportunities for opposing defenses. Despite executing that scheme with limited talent over the first two years of his career, Luck exceeded his extremely lofty expectations.

It was his third season, 2014, when Luck truly stepped into the upper echelon of NFL stars. The talent didn't get much better in 2014; Luck's receivers failed at the catch point 77 times for at least 893 lost yards and seven touchdowns (for comparison's sake, no quarterback had more than 64 failed receptions and 836 lost yards in 2015), while his offensive line remained a set of saloon doors.

Andrew Luck's 2015 Accuracy Chart
Pass Distance Less than 2 2-10 11-20 21+
Outside Numbers Left 100.0% 7 82.4% 17 64.3% 14 55.6% 9
Outside Hashes Left 90.1% 11 71.0% 31 80.0% 10 85.7% 7
Between Hashes 100.0% 3 94.4% 18 77.8% 9 0.0% 2
Outside Hashes Right 100.0% 14 77.4% 31 55.6% 9 66.7% 6
Outside Numbers Right 100.0% 8 77.8% 18 55.6% 9 47.0% 17

This pass chart comes from last season, when Luck was accurate on 76.2 percent of his passes. The number next to each percentage is how many throws were targeted into those specific areas of the field. Luck thrived on throws where the ball didn't travel further than 2 yards downfield, but his placement became an adventure from there. Luck's main problem was that he couldn't create velocity on the ball while gripping it with the same authority that he had in 2014. His intermediate and deep accuracy was extremely problematic, which is a major problem in the Colts' scheme. If you go back 12 months to when Luck was definitely healthy, his accuracy was phenomenal not only in terms of his consistency but also in terms of completing difficult throws into tight coverage downfield.

Andrew Luck's 2014 Accuracy Chart
Pass Distance Less than 2 2-10 11-20 21+
Outside Numbers Left 90.1% 22 73.2% 41 64.9% 37 41.2% 17
Outside Hashes Left 92.6% 54 83.9% 56 83.3% 24 42.9% 7
Between Hashes 92.3% 13 75.7% 37 83.3% 24 62.5% 8
Outside Hashes Right 92.5% 53 83.3% 78 74.1% 27 48.3% 15
Outside Numbers Right 97.4% 38 80.4% 46 71.8% 39 75.0% 40

Luck's accuracy rate in 2015 was 79.8 percent, which would have ranked sixth amongst the quarterbacks charted in the Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue for the 2015 season. None of the players with a higher total percentage played in an offense that was as aggressive or demanding as Luck's. Luck's accuracy to the 2-10 level of the field was within one percent of 80 in each of 2014 and 2015. Where the discrepancy began to develop was further downfield. In 2014, Luck had an accuracy percentage of 74.2 percent to the 11-20 level of the field. In 2015, that number fell to just 66.7 percent. Between 21 and 49 yards downfield, Luck's 2014 accuracy was 60.7 percent, whereas his 2015 accuracy percentage was 56.1. And while Luck only hit one of three passes of 50-plus yards in 2014, he didn't even muster up a single attempt at that depth in 2015.

Consistent accuracy when throwing shorter passes to wide-open receivers from completely clean pockets shouldn't buy you anything. You don't need to be great to thrive under those circumstances. In 2014, Luck thrived in the opposite. Luck sustained quality play and continued to develop season after season while constantly playing under pressure and throwing the ball into tight windows. He showed off everything you need to see from a quarterback to buy in over the long term.

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This is the type of play that Luck has been required to make throughout his career. He drops back in the pocket and holds the ball until his receiver has a chance to get into position downfield. Luck has to find a sweet spot between holding the ball long enough for the route combinations to develop downfield and releasing the ball before the defender can contact him. Luck knows that he is going to be hit and the defender is going to hit him before he can cleanly get rid of the ball, therefore he has to throw with anticipation and rely on his quick release to get the ball out at the perfect time. Luck's pass leads his tight end away from the dropping defender in coverage and allows him to comfortably catch the ball before going out of bounds.

Making this throw requires sustained velocity and the control to push the ball past the defender in coverage. You can't make this play if the ball floats slightly, or if you are straining to get it to the right spot on time. This is the play that Luck struggled to make in 2015, but made constantly with ease in 2014.

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When throwing outside the numbers down the right sideline (21 or more yards from the line of scrimmage), Luck hit 75.0 percent of his passes. That is an outrageous number. He hit the bull's eye on his first 17 attempts to that area of the field, missing his first on the season with a desperation heave against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Colts' eighth game of the 2014 season. As the above GIFs show, these throws were regularly of an extremely high degree of difficulty. Luck wasn't relying on hard play fakes to distort the defense's coverage so he could throw from a clean pocket to a receiver left wide open outside. Because of the deep drops on which the Colts offense relies, Luck's shorter throws often required just as much of his arm talent to get the ball to the right spot on time.

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The control that Luck shows off over the velocity and trajectory of his passes allows him to be a precision thrower. He's not just another big-bodied, strong-armed passer who sprays the ball in the direction of his intended receivers. On this play against the Cincinnati Bengals, Luck has no margin for error once again. If he slightly underthrows the ball, the defensive back undercutting would have an opportunity to intercept the pass. If Luck even slightly overthrows the ball, it is viable to drift over the sideline because of the trajectory from which it is arriving. Luck understands that he needs to target his intended target's upfield shoulder, and he has the arm talent to put it perfectly in that spot at the exact time it needs to be there.

Luck settles at the top of his drop 8 yards from the line of scrimmage. He is on the left hashmark throwing the ball to the right sideline, so even though the ball only arrives 14 yards past the line of scrimmage, the throw itself likely traveled 25 or 30 yards in the air.

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On this play, T.Y. Hilton runs a 15-yard comeback route on the right side of the field. He is well covered by the Denver Broncos cornerback, so the timing of Luck's throw from the opposite hash is imperative to the success of the play. Luck's arm talent will allow him to make this throw, but there is no way he can hit Hilton without releasing the ball extremely early. Luck has to visualize the placement of the ball as Hilton enters his break so the ball is there to be caught at a point when the defender is out of the play. This is a play that is built into the Colts offense; it's a very difficult play, but not one that Luck created outside of design or one the Colts turn to reluctantly. It's the kind of throw a West Coast offense will avoid because of the inherent risks of having the ball travel so far across the face of the defender.

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The system in Indianapolis requires the quarterback to be aggressive, but Luck's mentality is to be aggressive regardless. This play against the New England Patriots is one of the most impressive you will see from any quarterback. Luck climbs in the pocket and turns his body while reading the defense so he can come back to Reggie Wayne on the backside of the play. Luck is a moment late letting the ball go, but his arm strength and ability to deliver the ball from a rotating platform allows the ball to catch up to Wayne with ease. This is the type of throw that creates big plays both ways for most quarterbacks. The degree of difficulty means that the quarterback can't afford to miss, not even slightly, or he risks an interception rather than just an incompletion.

Interceptions have been a common criticism of Luck over the course of his career. Yet, when you understand the context surrounding his career, it's hard to be anything but impressed with his ball security.

When Eli Manning last ran a similar offense to the one Luck has been in throughout his career, back in 2013, he threw 27 interceptions on 551 attempts. Since that season, Manning has thrown 28 interceptions on 1,219 attempts. For his career, including the disastrous 2015 season, Luck has thrown 55 interceptions on 2,106 regular season attempts. That gives him a 2.61 percent interception rate, 14th of 20 quarterbacks since 2012 who have started at least 48 games. If you take out the 2015 season, Luck's interception rate falls to 2.37 percent and his ranking jumps to 10th amongst the 22 quarterbacks who then qualify.

Most of Luck's peers were established veterans playing in more quarterback-friendly schemes, so his ranking would likely be higher if we could statistically account for those elements.

Luck's interceptable passes were just as favorable in 2014. He threw an interceptable pass once every 26.3 attempts ranking 12th in the whole league. His collapse in 2015 in this measurement was actually mirrored, bested even, by Carson Palmer. Palmer's situation isn't completely the same as Luck's because of the talent around him, but both quarterbacks play in similarly aggressive offenses. For 15 weeks, Palmer had an Interceptable Pass Rate of one interceptable pass per 28.5 attempts, an extremely impressive number. In Week 15 he injured his throwing hand and had an atrocious Interceptable Pass Rate from that point onwards, on every 9.5 attempts. Palmer's physical ailment prevented him from being able to make the requisite throws to make the Cardinals offense function.

Sports exist in a No Excuse culture. Football is especially bad in this sense. As kids we are taught to push ourselves towards our limits, sometimes even past our limits, in the hopes of becoming better beings. You don't create reasons to quit or reasons to believe you are lesser than anyone else around you. You fight through what is put in front of you and put yourself in position to overcome it. That is the culture of sports. It's a necessary, even if sometimes dangerous one to push athletes towards their physical, emotional, mental, and technical peaks. One of the trade-offs of experiencing sports through that mindset is you tend to conflate context and explanations with excuses.

Explaining Luck's 2015 season isn't to excuse it; it's to understand how it fits in the decision-making process moving forward. The quarterback position is the one spot in Indianapolis where the Colts should have no concerns.


30 comments, Last at 10 Jun 2016, 5:05am

#1 by TimK // Jun 01, 2016 - 7:19pm

Nice article, the game Luck barely survived against Denver but still managed to win, was one of the most impressive pieces of sustained quarterbacking under duress I've ever seen. Hope the Colts can build him enough protection through either OL or some scheme changes to give him a chance to have a long career.

Points: 0

#2 by Dales // Jun 01, 2016 - 8:31pm

He's my favorite non-Giant player. When he's healthy, how do you stop him? He's an even more accurate, faster, smarter Ben Roethlisberger.

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#3 by theslothook // Jun 01, 2016 - 9:48pm

Luck gets compared to his predecessor a lot, but its an unfair standard. Still, Luck has consistency issues w his accuracy. I can live w the ints but its the inconsistent accuracy he needs to fix

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#11 by RickD // Jun 02, 2016 - 2:20pm

Yes, it seems reasonable to expect 2016 Luck to be better than 2015 Luck. But Colts' fans who expect him to step into Peyton Manning's shoes and perform at that level should prepare to be disappointed.

Of course, one can be a damned good QB without being at Peyton Manning's level.

Points: 0

#4 by jacklaughing // Jun 02, 2016 - 12:23am

Article indicates that the Colts' offense, which sucked last year in my opinion, contains "very difficult plays" and is so advanced it puts additional stress on Luck to succeed. But if "most of Luck's peers were established veterans playing in more quarterback-friendly schemes," then shouldn't we criticize the scheme? I picked up a bit of a defensive tone regarding criticism of Luck, but not much annoyance with the Colts. If they intend to pay the man the most money ever given to an NFL player, they might want to ensure he has the best possible chance of winning, right? That goes beyond the amount of talent he throwing the ball at.

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#5 by Cian Fahey // Jun 02, 2016 - 8:20am

The Colts aren't going to alter their scheme so it wasn't really a focus in this article. I have written about it many times though, most recently here:

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#7 by panthersnbraves // Jun 02, 2016 - 9:30am

Chud seemed to be a big fan of "All 9's" when he was at Carolina, so don't expect to see a whole lot of change...

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#8 by Will Allen // Jun 02, 2016 - 9:46am

I still think Luck is making a gigantic error if he ties himself to Grigson and Irsay. I think he shoud have demanded a trade this year, and refused play, or, at the very least, refused to play absent a guarantee that he not be franchised. It is not hyperbole to state that 300 million dollars, in marginal earning power over the next 12 to 15 years, could be riding on the competence of Grigson and Irsay, and that just isn't a good bet.

Points: 0

#9 by billprudden // Jun 02, 2016 - 10:07am

Sir -

I'm waiting, hoping, for a powerplay such as this in the NFL. A healthy Luck is a franchise's next decade, minimum, and he would, could, should dictate those terms.

Grigson has shown himself to NOT be top-tier, and the owner could be in jail at any time.

There have got to be better options... and I'd like to think that the new, young, tech-culture owners would "get it" in ways Maras and Rooneys never could, not resenting labor's recognition and use of its leverage.


Points: 0

#10 by Will Allen // Jun 02, 2016 - 2:15pm

There is simply too much at stake to not be utterly ruthless in pursuit of the best risk/reward opportunity, IF Luck is seeing this throught the prism of maximizing profit. Luck betting the next 12-15 years on a partnership (and if Luck is not thinking in terms of partnership, as opposed to employer-employee he's crazy) with Grigson and Irsay is just horrific decision-making.

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#12 by RickD // Jun 02, 2016 - 2:23pm

Pretty much agree with this. Aside from Luck, that franchise is a dumpster fire. Grigson is an unmitigated idiot.

If Luck has the sense to become a free agent, he'll be pretty much able to pick his team and compensation level.

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#22 by ChrisS // Jun 06, 2016 - 1:41pm

It also seems they may have mismanaged his injury situation, bringing him back too early resulting in another injury. Though it is hard to know how much the team pushed him or how much he pushed to team, to get him back in.

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#14 by Rocco // Jun 03, 2016 - 7:54am

If I were Luck's agent, my advice to him would be something like this: "Indy just wasted your cheapest years. What makes you think they're going to do better at surrounding you with talent when they're paying you market rate?"

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#15 by billprudden // Jun 03, 2016 - 1:32pm

... and how, if the agent confronted Irsay and Grigson with that question, might they possibly respond?

Following that line of question, it would be interesting for someone to do an analysis of "so now your QB is getting franchise money" and track how Pitt, Bal, NO, SD, NYG, and others have built teams around top-paid QBs.

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#16 by theslothook // Jun 03, 2016 - 1:53pm

As a colts fan, I nearly handed in my card when I saw Irsay bring back Pagano AND Grigson after what happened this season. Seriously, that trent richardson trade alone should have been enough to fire Grigson.

I've been hard on Polian in these threads, but man his firing was the ultimate beware what you wish for.

The colts needed to win free agency if they were going to give up draft picks/draft so low over and over. They did the opposite and made the situation worse. SMH.

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#17 by Thomas_beardown // Jun 03, 2016 - 5:42pm

While I think Polian was one of the best GMs, I'm pretty sure age caught up to him by the time he retired.

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#30 by turbohappy // Jun 10, 2016 - 5:05am

Chris Polian was fucking terrible. I'm not a Grigson fan, but even as shady and questionable as he is, he's still better...that dude had no clue. It was Chris (not Bill) who was GM when the firing went down.

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#20 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 06, 2016 - 10:30am

Add DEN and NE to that list.

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#21 by Thomas_beardown // Jun 06, 2016 - 10:43am

The last 3 years Flacco has been 18th, 13th, and 13th in cap space used among QBs.

You probably want to add GB to the list although Rodgers hasn't been compensated as well as several lesser QBs

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#25 by theslothook // Jun 06, 2016 - 5:06pm

Qb contracts affect teams at different times and smart organizations plan it well. For ex: if they imagine a lot of their young talent is cheap now..mthey will frobt load the qbs contract so that they get cap savings later. Conversely, if they are in win now, they will backload the contract and renegotiate later, something ozzie did w flacco.

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#26 by Thomas_beardown // Jun 06, 2016 - 6:21pm

Well yeah, but Baltimore has not had to deal with cap situation of paying a top QB salary to this point. They've paid an average and then slightly above average salary the past 3 years. Flacco has taken less cap space than Jay Cutler each of these years. Less than Bradford twice.

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#28 by dank067 // Jun 07, 2016 - 12:29pm

Which makes it a good data point—they did commit a lot of money to Flacco in 2013, but adopted the "backload and extend" strategy.

I think the future money owed to Flacco may have caused them to trade/let a couple of extra guys go last offseason and this offseason than they would have liked. However, it hasn't been totally out of the norm given their overall philosophy of being willing to let some of their up-and-coming players leave when they've reached their peak market value and using the compensatory picks to help replace them. Just feel it may be putting a little bit of extra stress on them, or is reducing their margin of error.

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#29 by theslothook // Jun 07, 2016 - 2:15pm

Oh absolutely and had this been a lesser organization, that additional burden might have pushed them to a breaking point.

The ravens are so prudent with free agent signings and careful planning of depth.

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#19 by Lebo // Jun 05, 2016 - 10:44am

Did Indy waste Luck's cheapest years, though?

That's a genuine question because Indy was very talent-poor when he arrived. Indy was never going the Superbowl in Luck's four years by building through draft. So I think that Grigson, recognising this, tried to fill out the roster with free agents.

And I don't think you can argue with this strategy, as it seems like the best way to take advantage of the 'extra' salary cap space that Luck's contract affords. It just seems like Grigson didn't sign quality free agents. So, in my opinion, the question we should be asking is, "were there better free agents that Grigson should've signed?" (I feel that the answer to this question is "probably," but I don't know for sure.)

Note: I hated the T-Rich trade as soon as it was announced. But I don't think one mistake (no matter how bad) is basis for firing.

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#23 by Thomas_beardown // Jun 06, 2016 - 1:50pm

The Seahawks won a Superbowl in Carrol's 4th year, after going 5-11 and 4-12 the previous 2 years thanks.

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#27 by Lebo // Jun 07, 2016 - 5:48am

True. I would say that Grigson-Pagano is definitely not as good as Schneider-McCloughlan-Carroll. But I also say that the Colts were starting with a lesser talent base.

I'm a total homer. But I also think that, if Luck is fully healthy this year, the Colts - with their revamped o-line - will be contenders again

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#18 by anon76returns // Jun 04, 2016 - 6:32pm

Don't worry. After Elway and Peyton, Luck will become the 3rd QB drafted by the Colts at #1 to go on to win his SBs while wearing Orange and Blue. This FA period, or the next one- doesn't matter. It is his ... Desssstiny!!

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#6 by panthersnbraves // Jun 02, 2016 - 9:20am

Good stuff. I think it might have helped to have shown gif's from some plays from 2015 where he failed that in 2014 he succeeded on similar plays.

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