Following a Legend: Andrew Luck Week 1 at Chicago Bears

This is the first chapter in what will hopefully be a long story about an Indianapolis quarterback that is trying to follow a legend in Peyton Manning, while facing the pressure of becoming one himself. 

This is Andrew Luck; broken down weekly in a way that I hope can set a new standard in football analysis. We will look at statistical metrics and use video analysis to chart every drop back every week. This will also help with analyzing the rest of Indianapolis’ offense. 

Want to know how many dropped passes in the end zone Luck has thrown? We’ll have that. Want to know how long he holds the ball every play? That’s a top priority. Which receivers get the most yards after catch for him? How many times did he face a three-man rush on Sunday? What’s his success rate when using play-action passing? How many bubble screens did Bruce Arians call this time? 

Those are the kind of questions we want to provide an answer for every Wednesday. Hopefully this will be a great experiment that I enjoy doing for years to come. Should Luck be a bust, then we will at least be able to figure out why.

Onto the review of Luck’s debut against the Chicago Bears from Week 1. If you are familiar with my work, I like drive stats a lot, so that is the approach taken to present this data. 

Drive No. 1

Andrew Luck’s first NFL drop back was a little play-action dump-off to Dominique Jones for an 8-yard gain. Two plays later he had Reggie Wayne open, but the pressure forced him to overthrow an errant pass to the left sideline. The Colts went three and out. 

Drive No. 2

Luck showed good movement in the pocket as he avoided sacks on consecutive plays, including his first scramble (3-yard gain) for a first down on 3rd and 2. Two plays later he attempted his only screen pass of the game, completing an 11-yard pass to LaVon Brazill. Just like the first drive, this one ended when Luck was pressured and could not step in to deliver a good pass to the open Wayne

Drive No. 3

Luck was sacked on third down by Julius Peppers, but a neutral zone infraction on Chicago negated the play, setting up a 3rd-and-1 opportunity. The Colts had a perfect play-action pass designed, but Donald Brown dropped the ball in the right flat as he looked downfield before securing the pass. It had to be Luck’s first “God ****** Donald!” moment.

Drive No. 4

Now into the second quarter, Luck completed the first of several highlight-reel catches by Wayne on the day. The pass was a bit high, but Wayne snatched it for a gain of 17. A play later, Luck went deep down the right sideline to Donnie Avery, but he badly under-threw him for an easy interception by former Colt Tim Jennings, who announcer Dan Dierdorf actually said is a very good football player. It might have been Luck’s worst moment of the day, as Avery had separation, but the throw was not enough. 

Drive No. 5

Following the interception, Luck came back out firing, getting drilled after delivering a 23-yard gain to Wayne, who had to lay out for the catch again.   The Colts picked up a first down via a 6-yard pass interference penalty on the next play. Three plays later Luck ran by contact to deliver his only other completion under pressure in the game to Wayne. Brown then scored on a 18-yard touchdown run to cut Chicago’s lead to 17-14. 

Drive No. 6

Down 24-14 with 0:39 left at his own 22 and three timeouts left, the Colts let Luck do what Manning would have in the past: go for the score. He ran the no-huddle offense well, completing four straight passes, including his first three targets to Stanford teammate Coby Fleener. Luck again went for the right sideline in the end zone, but again did not throw a strong enough pass, and Jennings almost had another pick. Adam Vinatieri missed the 37-yard field goal, because the situation was not clutch enough for him to make it. That will conclude the first half.    

Drive No. 7

To start the second half, Luck was a bit wide of the mark on his two throws, and the Colts went three and out again. 

Drive No. 8

After Chicago added a touchdown and field goal following Brazill’s fumbled kickoff, the Colts now trailed 34-14. In danger of another three and out, the Colts gained a first down via an illegal contact penalty. Then Donald Brown had another bad drop after taking his eyes off the ball yet again. Avery dropped a pass too, but only after taking a hard hit. 

Big completions to Wayne and Fleener moved the ball into the red zone, but on 3rd and 3 at the CHI 10, Wayne was well defended, Luck’s pass was tipped and intercepted off the deflection by Chris Conte.  

Drive No. 9

Luck would commit his third turnover of the game after Corey Wootton came from his blind side to knock the ball out of Luck’s hand for the fumble. It was originally ruled an incomplete pass, but the ball was clearly fumbled before the arm was moving forward. 

Drive No. 10

Luck went back to work, now in the fourth quarter and still trailing 34-14. On 4th and 10 at the CHI 31, Luck had great protection and found Kris Adams for a 13-yard gain. Four plays later, Luck threw his first NFL touchdown pass to Donnie Avery. It was the fastest pass Luck threw all day, at just 1.03 seconds after the snap.  

Drive No. 11

After the defense allowed another touchdown, the Colts trailed 41-21 with 6:02 left. Luck had his first pass of the day batted down at the line, then Chicago sent a blitz and got him for the sack on third down to end the drive. 

Drive No. 12

With the game out of reach, Luck was starting to see more pressure. At one point, he was pressured on four of five plays after going 12 straight plays with solid protection. On 4th and 15, he threw a good pass to Avery for 26 yards, which was the longest gain of the day. But after going back to that right side for Adams, Luck again misfired for his third interception and fourth turnover of the day.  

Summary

In his first game, Andrew Luck finished 23 of 45 (51.1 percent) for 309 yards, TD, 3 INT, 52.9 passer rating, three sacks, two runs for nine yards, and a lost fumble. 

The numbers were not that far off from Peyton Manning’s debut game in 1998. Luck led the offense to 14 points on 12 drives, which puts the Colts at 28th in the league as of Week 1. 

Luck only had 104 yards after catch, as Chicago tackled very well. That is just 33.7 percent of his total yardage. 

Luck had an average release time of 2.78 seconds. He was 7/9 on quick passes (less than 2.0 seconds). He had 31 plays under 3.0 seconds, and only nine after 3.5 seconds.  

 

“Defended Drops” are the passes where the receiver catches the ball, but he is hit or has it knocked out (in other words, he drops the ball). But these are not counted as drops for some reason, so I created a separate category for them. Here is some more summary data: 

  • Under pressure: Luck was 2/8 for 35 yards, sacked three times, and scrambled twice for nine yards (a total of 13 snaps out of 50).
  • By moving in the pocket and escaping contact, Luck avoided roughly five sacks in the game.
  • Chicago sent four pass rushers on 34 of 50 drop backs by Luck. They sent five on nine plays.
  • Luck used the play-action pass on six plays: 1/5 for 8 yards, INT, one run for six yards.
  • There was only one screen pass out of the 45 passes thrown by Luck.
  • The empty backfield was used on 10 of Luck’s 50 drop backs. He was 4/9 for 31 yards and sacked once.
  • The average gain after the catch (YAC) was 4.52 yards. Fleener had the longest play in terms of YAC (17 yards).
  • Reggie Wayne had a team-high 18 targets.

On Sunday the Colts will host the Minnesota Vikings. Some more quick passes to negate the pass rush of Jared Allen would be a wise move for Bruce Arians. There was a lot of promise shown by Luck in Week 1. After a hot start, the defense never really gave the Colts a chance to get into the game in the final three quarters. Luck’s biggest flaws were the deeper throws, specifically down the right side of the field. That should improve with time as he understands what windows are open and which need a stronger pass to get there in time in the NFL.

The search for improvement already begins.

 

Note: Just starting this task, I can already talk about inconsistencies in the data used by other stat services for some of these metrics, but for now I will keep them to myself and just promise that I plan to use the same methods every single week. My data may not match STATS LLC or ProFootballFocus perfectly, but let me assure you everything was done logically and consistently.  

I will probably be tweaking things early on in the process as I find the right format and metrics to present. Hopefully this is not done too well so that defensive coordinators read it every week and use it to shut Luck down. Also, this was posted on his 23rd birthday today, so that’s interesting. If you have any suggestions, questions or comments, feel free to e-mail me at smk_42@yahoo.com or hit me up on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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