The Case Against Andrew Luck

In a make-or-break NFL season, the Colts' quarterback must finally be elite

Andrew Luck warms up
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Andrew Luck warms up prior to the start of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on August 28th, 2014 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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What weighs heavier on the psyche of a pro quarterback: expectation or presumption?

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It's an interesting question, one that Andrew Luck will be forced to answer this year. Two seasons ago, he came to the Indianapolis Colts as the heir apparent to Peyton Manning, and has delivered on that promise to a degree. But as he begins year three as the face of the franchise, expectation has metamorphosed into a mysterious belief…one that holds Luck has already become transcendent.

He hasn't. And if Luck is going to actually join the ranks of the "elite," he's going to need more than articles about his greatness; he's going to have to actually produce at a top-five level. Through two seasons, Luck and his passer rating of 81.5 have basically been hugging the wall at an eighth grade dance. Now, it's time for him to show us what he's got.

That's not to say that Luck hasn't been a very good quarterback – and an excellent one relative to his experience. And it's not as though his selection as a number-one overall pick somehow guarantees greatness. Since 1990 there have been 28 quarterbacks selected in the top five and only one of them has been named as a first team All-Pro:

Peyton Manning.

The same player that also represents some sort of father figure to Luck in the eyes of many fans. The person he's often compared to and therefore must live up to, and maybe that's why so many are so quick to say that Luck is already doing that. But other than consecutive AFC South division titles, a 2013 playoff win over Chiefs, and eight fourth-quarter comebacks through 35 career games, Luck has often had to fail in order to set himself up for success.

Take that win over Kansas City. The same game that had many saying that Luck had "arrived" also happened to be a game in which he threw three interceptions. Indianapolis came back from a 38-10 deficit largely because of Luck, but how quickly we forget that he also had something to do with his team being down 28 points in the first place: Two of his three picks led to scoring drives by the Chiefs.

Which is why there is a good probability that the Colts could find themselves left out of the playoffs this season and possibly even picking in the top 10 of next year's draft. If Luck is great, then he might be the only thing about the Colts that is worth watching.

Last season, coordinator Greg Manusky's defense finished 20th in yards allowed, 26th in rushing yards allowed and nobody other than Robert Mathis had more than 5.5 sacks. Mathis also happens to be suspended for the first four games of the season due to a violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, leaving open the question of whether or not his 19.5 sacks last season were "all him" or if that ability will mysteriously disappear.

The secondary also doesn't figure to be great after strong safety Antoine Bethea left via free agency and top cornerback Vontae Davis had just one interception a year ago. It was difficult to restock the defense in the draft because general manager Ryan Grigson – as shocking of a selection for 2012 Executive of the Year then as he is now – sent their first round pick to the Browns for running back Trent Richardson.

Richardson balled out for 2.9 yards per carry with Indy last season.

If Andrew Luck is great because he has to keep bailing his team out every week, then that's not a very good reason for being known as "great." And it's also not something that he can be expected to do on a regular basis. The Colts had the fewest turnovers in the NFL last year, the main reason that they went 11-5, but they had four giveaways in each of their two playoff games and allowed 87 points. During the regular season they lost games by 30, 29 and 24 points, and the Patriots knocked them out of the playoffs by a score of 43-22.

These are not the signs of a good team. The Seahawks haven't lost by more than seven points since November of 2011, a stretch of 45 games including playoffs.

There's a stigma that some people are just "Luck bashers" because of jealousy or not understanding the quiet, unspoken intricacies of football, but it's not bashing when you're pointing out the facts. And there wouldn't need to be a counter-punch if there wasn't an initial punch to begin with. You say Luck is elite; I say:

  • His passer rating of 87.0 ranked 18th last season.
  • His 6.7 yards per attempt ranked 26th.
  • His touchdown percentage was tied for 21st.
  • He ranked 23rd in completion percentage.
  • Per ProFootballFocus, he had a lower percentage of "air yards" than 25 other quarterbacks, with just 49.7 percent of his passing yards coming from his throws alone. This means that over 50 percent of his total passing yards came after the catch, implying that his receivers did much of the work.
  • He had 60 throws to targets that were 20 or more yards down field and completed 17 of those attempts. Russell Wilson also had 60 such throws, completing 27 of them.
  • A lot is made of his poor offensive line, but he was considered "under pressure" on 37.5-percent of his drop backs, good for 10th-highest percentage in the league. A high number, but Wilson was under pressure for 43.8 percent of his drop backs, highest in the NFL. Luck had 327 dropbacks with at least 2.6 seconds in the pocket, fourth-most in the league. He's had plenty of time to throw.
  • His career passer rating of 81.5 is just 22nd among qualified passers over that time, lower than such stalwarts as Matt Schaub, Carson Palmer, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. In the same period of time, Christian Ponder has even managed a passer rating of 80.1.

Luck is a fine quarterback. Sometimes he is even a very good quarterback. But the story of his so-called arrival as a great one, let alone one of the elite, is fiction. Yet people seem to believe that, if they keep repeating it, eventually it will become true. And maybe it will.

If he is able to make the leap, then the Colts can contend for the Super Bowl. If he can't, then the pundits will have to get even more creative in coming up with ways to explain why he's so perfect when all the evidence says otherwise.

It's time for Andrew Luck to be better than fiction.