The NFL Needs a Healthy Andrew Luck
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The bar for Andrew Luck has been set unreasonably high. Not only was Luck burdened with the pressures of being renowned as one of the greatest quarterback prospects ever, but he was drafted to fill a void left by one of the best and most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history, Peyton Manning. That’s a lot for one player to handle. However, through five seasons, Luck has handled the pressure and expectations as well as anyone could. He’s developed excellent skills in a number of key areas and has regularly made a desolate Indianapolis Colts roster perform better than it would otherwise.
Luck quickly rose up the ranks among his passing peers. He broke the rookie passing record with 4,374 passing yards in 2012, threw a league-high 40 touchdowns in 2014, and rallied the Colts to three straight 11-5 seasons from 2012-2014. In 2013 and 2014, Luck put together a handful of excellent playoff performances, including a heroic comeback versus the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013, and a trip to the AFC Championship in 2014.
A multitude of injuries in 2015 knocked Luck down a peg in the pantheon of NFL quarterbacks. In an instant, it felt as if all of Luck’s previous accomplishments were void and that the injury-riddled campaign had tarnished what was a remarkable young career. Luck returned with a vengeance in 2016, though. The Colts roster was as bad as it has ever been during Luck’s tenure, yet the quarterback himself was playing some of the best football of his career through the first ten games of the season.
Brought to You By Head & Shoulders
For Luck, and most other elite quarterbacks, success starts above the shoulders. Luck’s ability to diagnose a defense pre-snap and adjust post-snap is fantastic.
Luck has a single receiver split out left and a tight trey set to his right on this play. The Chiefs trust their cornerback to win one-on-one with the lone receiver to the left and focus on their coverage strength to the trey set. Luck, as accurate as he is, knows he can throw open a solo wide receiver, if the receiver can give the play a sliver of hope.
The Colts quarterback opens up the play with the intention of gearing up to make the throw, no matter what, since he has the talent to make it. Unfortunately, the receiver gets bodied from the start and doesn’t create separation by any definition of the word. Luck quickly pulls the ball down, slides up to avoid the pressure, and checks the ball down to his running back, who would score a touchdown.
By beginning his initial throwing motion at the top of his drop, Luck was doing his best to get the ball out quickly. He did not want to leave any time for the defensive back to catch up to the ball, had he actually made the throw. Luck pulled the ball down because he wasn’t sure that his receiver had an advantage, but he showed he had an immediate backup plan, which he executed.
The best quarterbacks know all their options and how to make the best use of them. In this instance, Luck showed urgency in his initial plan, as well as the poise and awareness to transition to his backup plan in the midst of pressure. This play could not have been executed any better.
Maestro Fresh Luck
Luck’s intelligence and vision would be all for naught if he didn’t have the footwork to bring to life what his senses are telling him. There are many quarterbacks who fail to bring their feet where their eyes go, but all of Luck’s movements are musical. Where his eyes go, his feet go, and he is never off-beat. Luck constantly resets his base and finds unique ways to create throwing platforms. Few, if any, quarterbacks in the league have footwork as sound and flexible as Luck.
Regardless of where Luck moves in the pocket, he remains prepared to throw. He keeps his feet under him at about shoulder’s width and sits low with a hinge in his knees, helping him stay ready to move and reset with ease. While he may appear frantic in the play above, Luck is under full control throughout the play and puts himself in a good position to throw once he finds an open receiver.
Luck’s footwork is fantastic in the face of pressure, too. He does not allow incoming defenders to disrupt his mechanics. When paired with his fearlessness, Luck’s consistent mechanics while under duress give him the power to make uncomfortable throws.
When Luck has a plan, there isn’t much that will force him away from it. This pass rusher does not phase Luck or stop him from completing a tough mechanical feat.
Luck knows the next receiver in his progression will be the tight end crossing toward the left boundary. As Luck comes off of his initial read, he rotates all the way around and sets his feet in a position that allows him to throw a perfect pass. That Luck had the balance to hold his weight on his back foot, hop off his back foot while dangling his front foot so as to not waste steps, and then complete a pass as a pass rusher crushes him, is mesmerizing. Luck so often strings together small, masterful details to paint a beautiful play. Without slowing down the film every now and again, his art can get lost in the chaos.
M. Night Shyamaluck
As would be expected of someone with such excellent footwork, Luck’s pocket movement leaves defenders empty-handed more times than not. Luck appears to have a sixth sense for when and where to move in the pocket. His thick, athletic build also helps him brush off pass rushers who manage to get a hand on him. He can dance around defenders as well as he can power through them, putting him in the same sphere as Ben Roethlisberger as one of the most difficult quarterbacks to bring down.
Everything Luck does is right on time. His internal clock and awareness of his surroundings gives him a heightened sense of when, how, and where to move in the pocket, all while maintaining his eye level to scan the field for potential receivers. It’s rare for a quarterback to move with the blend of urgency and elegance the way Luck does. He is a menace for hopeful pass rushers.
The full spectrum of Luck’s skill set shone through in 2016. For the better part of the season, he was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Once again, he elevated his team well beyond what they were capable of. He had appeared to rebound exceptionally well from his injury-plagued 2015 season, that is until he suffered another injury late in the 2016 season.
Luck suffered a concussion towards the end of a Week 11 contest versus the Tennessee Titans. The injury sidelined Luck for the following game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, which the Colts lost, but Luck was back in the mix by Week 13, and he finished the rest of the season. Luck wasn’t the same quarterback he was prior to the concussion, though.
Following the concussion, Luck played more aloof and reckless. He lit up the New York Jets with four touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first game back, but the Houston Texans ravaged Luck the following week, and the Oakland Raiders did the same in Week 16. Luck was falling for coverage traps that he hadn’t been falling for throughout the season and he was regularly throwing into windows he wouldn’t normally even consider.
Andrew Luck is the Hero Indianapolis Deserves… And Needs
In fairness, Luck’s excellence was still on display, from his accuracy to his poise under pressure, but the drop-off in decision making was too much for him to overcome. The offense became more conservative when it could, but often faltered when Luck had to be the hero while still feeling the effects of his concussion.
The above interception versus the Raiders in Week 16 sums up some of Luck’s struggles post-concussion. Luck generally has a hint of gunslinger to him, but this is a throw he tends to avoid. Rarely does Luck feel the need to make a panicked throw in the face of pressure like he did here.
Luck made too many throws like this one in the games following his concussion and he got away with a handful of horrible throws that defensive backs happened to drop. The Colts lost a couple of tight games to Houston and Oakland due in part to Luck throwing two interceptions in each game.
With that in mind, Luck’s reckless finale shouldn’t be an indication of what he will be next season. He provided a showcase of elite quarterback play through the first ten games and still had impressive moments during his post-concussion stretch to close the season.
If there is any concern with Luck moving forward, it’s his shoulder. Luck initially injured his shoulder versus the Titans in Week 3 of 2015. He battled through the injury in 2015, until a lacerated kidney took him out for good. The Colts and Luck opted out of surgery during the 2016 offseason, and things looked fine for his health. Luck then aggravated the shoulder injury again in Week 2 of last season versus the Denver Broncos, though he chose to play the rest of the season despite the bum shoulder.
Given that he aggravated an already fragile shoulder, Luck chose to get surgery this offseason. He is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and will sit out the early part of training camp. It’s plausible Luck is taking extra time to recover because the injury is so fragile and that all will be back to normal once he returns. Only time will tell, though.
If Luck can remain healthy, he will continue his rise back to prominence. He has broken records and shattered the expectations of a normal young quarterback through every stage of his career. There is no reason to doubt him based on what he has done on the field up to this point. Now, Luck has to stay on the field and hope the team around him can give him enough support along the way.
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