Andrew Luck is halfway through his rookie season, but his strong play has forced us to reevaluate the expectations for his second half as the Indianapolis Colts (5-3) fight for a playoff spot.
When you are the first overall pick in the NFL draft, there is pressure to quickly meet expectations despite the fact you normally end up on one of the league’s worst teams.
Even Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning did not create instant success for their franchises as rookies.
Luck’s 5-3 (.625) record is the best any No. 1 overall quarterback has ever had in their rookie season.
Not only is Luck on pace to have the best rookie season for a quarterback taken first overall, but he is simultaneously doing things no rookie quarterback in NFL history has ever done before.
Before Luck makes his prime time debut in Jacksonville on Thursday night, here is a review of his first eight games. Free of hyperbole, this is by the numbers, the facts, and from someone who has gone through every drop back in great detail each week.
Any of the hype you have heard is warranted, and it should only get stronger if Luck continues to excel.
Responsibility: Successfully taking on the big workload
While at Stanford, Andrew Luck played in a run-heavy offense. He only attempted more than 35 passes in five games. With rumblings in the preseason about the Colts looking at a ground-and-pound offense, some questioned if Luck could or would handle a franchise-quarterback workload.
Those questions were answered quickly, as Luck has been given as much responsibility to carry the offense as any rookie quarterback in NFL history. More than just volume of drop backs, Luck has often run the no-huddle offense thanks to being given the full playbook from Bruce Arians. He also is throwing downfield at a very high rate and not receiving the help from his receivers after the catch like other quarterbacks.
Luck’s ability to still be successful despite this volume and style of offense is unprecedented for a rookie.
By the numbers:
4—Games with the Colts where Luck has attempted at least 45 passes. That is already the most by a rookie in NFL history. Since 1960, true rookie quarterbacks have only won eight games in which they attempt at least 45 passes. Luck (2-2) has two of the wins (Green Bay, Miami) and is the only quarterback with multiple wins.
6—Games with the Colts where Luck has attempted at least 35 passes. That is already one more, after eight games, than he had in college (38 career games). The rookie quarterback with the most games attempting 35-plus passes is Sam Bradford (10 games in 2010).
26.2—According to Advanced NFL Stats, Luck throws a deep pass (greater than 15 yards) on 26.2 percent of his pass attempts. That is the second-highest percentage in the league behind Joe Flacco (27.2 percent).
35.3—Percentage of Luck’s passing yards that are generated after the catch by his receivers (YAC). That is 849 yards out of 2,404. By comparison, fellow rookie Robert Griffin III has had 50.7 percent of his passing yards come as YAC percentage. The league average is in the mid 40s.
55—Passes Luck attempted against the Green Bay Packers in a 30-27 comeback win (Week 5). Luck is the only rookie quarterback in NFL history to attempt at least 50 passes and win a game. The previous high was 49 by Johnny Green (1960 Bills).
66.7—Luck has dropped back on 66.7 percent of the Cots’ 573 offensive plays this season. That includes 336 passes, 19 sacks and 27 rush attempts.
382—Total number of Luck drop backs through eight games (passes, runs and sacks not including plays negated by penalty).
764—Luck is on pace for a staggering 764 drop backs, which would break the NFL record held by Drew Bledsoe (757 in 1994). Even Cam Newton only had 678 drop backs in 2011, which is the rookie record.
Production: On pace for record numbers
With the workload Luck has been given, he is on pace to break many rookie passing records. Cam Newton broke some last season, but that appears to be short-lived.
By the numbers:
4—Games with at least 300 passing yards for Luck. This ties Peyton Manning (1998) for the rookie record. Luck passed for 309 yards in his Week 1 debut at Chicago, and he passed for more than 300 yards in three of his first four games.
30—Luck has two games in which he completed at least 30 passes. That ties Sam Bradford (2010) for the most by a rookie in NFL history. Bradford was 0-2 in those games. Overall, rookies are 2-5 when completing 30 or more passes. Luck has both wins (2-0).
76.1—Luck’s QBR in the ESPN system. It mixes together win probability, expected points added, clutch-weighted stats and more. With data back to 2008, it would surpass Matt Ryan (74.1 in 2008) as the best season by a rookie quarterback. Luck ranks fourth in the league in 2012.
190—Completions for Luck through eight games; the most ever by a rookie through eight games. Newton had 174 last year.
336—Attempts for Luck through eight games; the most ever by a rookie through eight games. Sam Bradford and Peyton Manning each had 292, and then Brandon Weeden has 299 this season.
350—Luck has already thrown for more than 350 yards twice in his career (Green Bay, Miami). Only three times in NFL history has a rookie quarterback thrown for at least 350 yards and won the game. Luck has two of the three games (Matthew Stafford threw for 422 yards versus Cleveland in 2009).
433—Passing yards versus Miami in Week 9, breaking the single-game NFL rookie record set by Cam Newton last season (432 yards). Luck completed 30 of 48 passes. His 105.6 passer rating is the fourth highest in a game by a rookie quarterback (min. 40 pass attempts). It is the highest minimum 45 pass attempts.
2,404—Passing yards for Luck through eight games; the most ever by a rookie through eight games. Newton had 2,393 yards last year. Luck already has the 20th most passing yards by a rookie in NFL history and has half a season to play.
Luck is on pace for 4,808 passing yards, or 757 more yards than Newton’s record 4,051 last season.
Rushing effectiveness: Mobility is a big advantage
While Luck operates mostly from the pocket, his ability to move around, break sacks and scramble for first downs has been a huge positive for the offense this season. The natural comparison everyone wants to make is Peyton Manning, but Luck has shown he has some Ben Roethlisberger in him as well, which is a perfect fit given Bruce Arians having worked with both of those quarterbacks.
Luck’s mobility was considered underrated heading into the draft, and he has proved to be an athletic quarterback at the pro level.
By the numbers:
11.5—Luck’s expected points added by scrambles and designed runs according to ESPN’s QBR system. He leads all quarterbacks in this category.
14—Rushing first downs by Luck, including three touchdowns (two against Cleveland in Week 7). Luck has gained a first down on 58.3 percent of his rushes.
24—Luck’s carries this season with three kneel downs excluded. He has scrambled 21 times, and had three designed runs (two quarterback sneaks and one quarterback draw which produced a touchdown).
75.0—On third down, Luck has run for a first down on nine of 12 attempts. That does not include a one-yard run versus Minnesota where Jared Allen hit Luck late out of bounds, drawing a 15-yard flag for an unofficial 10th first down.
151—Rushing yards by Luck when excluding the three kneel downs. He averages 6.29 yards per carry.
Clutch: Coming through in big moments
It is always critical for a quarterback to come through for his team as often as he can in the key plays of a game (third down, red zone, fourth quarter). Sometimes, like in the case of his predecessor Peyton Manning, this does not show up in your rookie season.
But for Luck, he has done an incredible job for the Colts in the clutch. We have covered his success in the two-minute drill, but it goes even beyond that.
While the two losses at Chicago and the New York Jets (Week 6) were not close games late, in five close games Luck has led his team on a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter all five times. It took a shocking 80-yard touchdown by Jacksonville to deny Luck another close win in Week 3.
When it comes to succeeding in the face of adversity, Luck is performing at an elite level.
By the numbers:
0.35—At Advanced NFL Stats, Luck’s “Win Probability Added per Game” is 0.35, which ranks third in the league behind Matt Ryan (0.41) and Ben Roethlisberger (0.39). This is a great stat for determining value, as it credits the quarterback for making plays in critical moments to help his team win games.
3—Indianapolis’ current three-game winning streak has come without the benefit of a single takeaway. The only other team to do so was the 1992 San Francisco 49ers. They had Steve Young. The Colts have Luck, who has led game-winning drives in consecutive weeks. Matt Ryan is the only other rookie to win three games in a season without a takeaway, but not three in a row.
4—In eight career games, Luck has already led four game-winning drives. He is the fifth rookie quarterback in NFL history to do so, and the first to do it in his team’s first eight games.
5—Quarterbacks since 1950 to lead a comeback win after trailing by at least 18 points. Luck erased a 21-3 deficit versus Green Bay for a 30-27 victory. He joins Matthew Stafford (2009 Lions vs. Browns), Vince Young (2006 Titans vs. Giants), John Elway (1983 Broncos vs. Colts) and Travis Tidwell (Giants vs. Colts) as the only rookie quarterbacks to do so.
16—Length of game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to Vick Ballard in Tennessee (Week 8). Luck became the first quarterback to throw a game-winning touchdown pass in the regular season under the new modified overtime. Tim Tebow did it in the postseason last year. Luck also became just the third rookie quarterback to throw a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime, joining Drew Bledsoe (1993) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (2005).
33—Luck’s first game-winning drive came against Minnesota in Week 2. He had just 31 seconds left when it started, and completed two passes for 40 yards before picking up five more yards on a penalty to set up Adam Vinatieri for the game-winning field goal. It was the 33rd game-winning drive started in the final 0:31 of a game in the NFL since 1981.
45.9—On third down, Luck has converted 50 of 109 opportunities (45.9 percent). That includes sacks and runs and is the kind of rate an elite quarterback converts the money down at. He is not just padding stats on third-and-short situations either.
70.6—Against Miami, Luck converted 12 of 17 third-down plays for a staggering 70.6 percent against a defense who came into the game No. 1 in the league on third down, allowing just 26.4 percent (28-of-106). The average third-down attempt for Luck was 9.8 yards in the game.
Looking ahead to Luck’s second half
With the Colts well in the playoff hunt, there will be building pressure on Luck to perform. He has already answered the early hype and appears to have the right mindset to take on any upcoming challenges like the proverbial “rookie wall” you will soon hear about.
If the second half is like the first half, then this will be quite the legendary rookie season. The Colts can certainly defeat Jacksonville, Buffalo, Detroit, Tennessee again and Kansas City. That would mean 10 wins.
A Week 11 game in New England, which has already been moved into a marquee 4:25 p.m. start time, will be very tough. The Colts play Houston twice in three weeks to end the season, though that Week 17 game could see the Texans resting for the playoffs.
It is not improbable for the Colts to win double-digit games and make the playoffs. With Luck leading the way and setting records, his name will be near the top of everyone’s list for Offensive Rookie of the Year, if not more.
Can you even imagine the rather possible scenario in which Luck heads to Denver to face Peyton Manning in an AFC Wild Card Game? This could happen, which no one ever thought would be possible on a team who was supposed to be starting the rebuilding process.
Hearts are heavy right now in Indianapolis with the team’s exciting wins and the health of coach Chuck Pagano, but leading the charge for a potential dream season is a 23-year-old rookie playing well beyond his years.
It is true, rookie quarterbacks are having more success than ever before. But it takes a special player to do it without the benefit of a strong running game, elite defense or Hall of Fame coach.
With the responsibilities the Colts have put on Luck and his ability to lead them to clutch victories, he is crafting a rookie season unlike any we have ever seen before.
As a NFL fan, I just feel lucky to be experiencing and covering this career from the start.