In his 14th career game Andrew Luck experienced some career-worst numbers in a tough 29-17 loss to Houston that clinched the AFC South for the Texans. Luck had season lows in first downs (7), completions (13) and tied his career-low in passing yards (186). He also did not convert a single third down (0/7).
I came up half a sack short of my prediction for J.J. Watt to reach 20 sacks in the game – for the season that is, not in this one game – but he did still have a monster game, getting three of what became a career-high five sacks of Luck.
For the first time in eight games when given the opportunity, Luck did not put his team ahead in the fourth quarter in what was the Colts’ most feeble comeback attempt of the year.
But it wasn’t all bad as Luck avoided turnovers, and threw two touchdowns to give him 20 for the season. He is just the 7th rookie quarterback to reach that milestone.
There was a good reason for the struggles of the Colts’ offense in this one, and here is Watt happened.
Drive No. 1
Drive Stats: 11:41 left (1st quarter), trailing 3-0. 3 plays, 5 yards (three-and-out punt).
For the third straight game the Colts started with a three and out on offense. After Vick Ballard gained five yards on the ground, Luck heard (and felt) the first mention of “that pocket was collapsing around” him, and his pass to Donnie Avery was wide of the mark. On 3rd and 5 he was able to move to his left, but Glover Quin had good coverage on Reggie Wayne, defending the pass incomplete.
Drive No. 2
Drive Stats: 4:43 left, trailing 10-0. 9 plays, 31 yards (punt).
Quickly down 10-0, Luck was buried on a sack after trying a play-action pass. CBS analyst Dan Fouts literally asked if you could split sacks into thirds. That was the kind of jailbreak this was. Still, Luck came back with a 15-yard pass over the middle to Avery, then the Colts picked up a first down thanks to a personal foul on a late hit to Wayne in the head area.
After two good runs by Ballard for 13 yards, Luck again tried the play-action, but the Texans were not fooled and J.J. Watt blew up the play for a 15-yard loss. Luck threw wide of Wayne who took another shot. Then on 3rd and 25 Luck stepped up in the pocket and had T.Y. Hilton wide open, but the pass went through his hands near the 30-yard line.
Even if he caught it, the Colts would have been penalized for holding. Houston declined and the Colts punted.
Drive No. 3
Drive Stats: 13:17 left (2nd quarter), trailing 10-0. 6 plays, 37 yards (Mewelde Moore fumble at HOU 1).
Now in good field position at the HOU 38, the Colts used a little play-action to set up a screen pass to Hilton, and with good blocking (some from Wayne too) down the field Hilton gained 17 yards. The Colts had a 3rd and 6, but Houston was flagged for defensive holding. Luck hit Avery on a quick slant, and he fought his way down to the HOU 1.
But it was there when the Colts made their first critical mistake. Despite Ballard’s solid game, Mewelde Moore got the carry, and Watt forced a fumble before he could score. Houston recovered and it was a crushing setback for the Colts.
Drive No. 4
Drive Stats: 8:22 left, trailing 10-0. 6 plays, 26 yards (Adam Vinatieri 26-yard field goal).
To their credit the defense held and the Colts started at the HOU 34. Luck was hit as he threw, so the ball came out funny with no one in sight. Ballard had big runs of 19 and 10 before Watt blew up the backfield again for a 3-yard loss. Watt then led a gang of pressure on Luck, who escaped and just threw the ball away in the end zone.
On 3rd and 8 Luck found Wayne in the back of the end zone for an incredible touchdown, but offsetting penalties (holding on the Colts) wiped it out. Luck was high and wide of Avery in the end zone, and Adam Vinatieri had to come out for the 26-yard field goal.
Drive No. 5
Drive Stats: 3:50 left, trailing 13-3. 5 plays, 9 yards (Pat McAfee punt is blocked and returned for TD).
Down by 10 again, Luck started with a 3-yard screen to Wayne. Under heavy pressure he was able to find Dwayne Allen for a 12-yard gain. But then it was Watt again on the sack as Luck had nowhere to go with it. Ballard lost three yards on the ground with Houston just crashing the backfield.
On 3rd and 16 Luck had protection, but his throw was off and should have been intercepted by Quintin Demps. What happened next may have been worse though as Houston blocked the punt and returned it for a touchdown to take a 20-3 lead. This one was unraveling.
Drive No. 6
Drive Stats: 1:38 left, trailing 20-3. 2 plays, 74 yards (61-yard TD pass to T.Y. Hilton).
Needing another huge rally, Avery started the drive with some good moves to gain 13 yards. Then Luck stepped up in the pocket only to find a wide open Hilton down the middle of the field. He caught the ball at the HOU 23 and went into the end zone for a huge 61-yard touchdown with 1:07 left in the half. That is the longest pass of Luck’s career, and they don’t come much easier than that.
Drive No. 7
Drive Stats: 14:50 left (3rd quarter), trailing 20-10. 3 plays, 4 yards (three-and-out punt).
Unlike last week when the Colts came out of the half clicking, this was another three and out. Luck tried a little swing pass to Ballard, but Connor Barwin batted it down in the backfield. Wayne gained four on a quick slant. On 3rd and 6 Hilton was alone and there for the first down, but he could not secure the catch. It was not the greatest throw, but still a play you need to make.
Drive No. 8
Drive Stats: 7:33 left, trailing 23-10. 8 plays, 80 yards (8-yard TD pass to Dwayne Allen).
Ballard started things with a 15-yard run. Luck then avoided a sack and scrambled for a 7-yard gain. After three runs by Ballard, Luck used a considerable play-action fake to set up a screen, but Hilton could only get back to the line for no gain. An illegal contact penalty gave the Colts a first down before Ballard had a 23-yard run.
On 1st and goal at the HOU 8, the Texans sent the house on the blitz, but Luck found Allen just in front of the end zone and he backed in for the touchdown. Game on as the Colts trailed 23-17.
Drive No. 9
Drive Stats: 13:31 left (4th quarter), trailing 23-17. 3 plays, -5 yards (three-and-out punt).
A big play happened to end the third quarter. The Colts were unable to stop Houston on 3rd and 15, allowing a 16-yard gain to Andre Johnson. This changed field position, and once the Colts did get the ball back, they had to start at their own 8.
Now the Colts have been great in these comeback opportunities, but this time they went to the ground one time too many. Ballard gained nothing on first down, then was blown up for a 5-yard loss by Watt. Just like that Luck had to convert a 3rd and 15 from his own 3.
Luck was of course pressured, barely got the pass off from his own end zone, and it was defensed incomplete. Wouldn’t have mattered if Hilton caught it as LaVon Brazill was penalized for offensive pass interference anyway. The Colts had to punt on their most disappointing drive of the day.
To make matters worse, coach Bruce Arians was flagged 15 yards after the punt. Now Houston could tack on a field goal and take a 26-17 lead with 8:30 to play.
Drive No. 10
Drive Stats: 8:30 left, trailing 26-17. 8 plays, 14 yards (punt).
At this point last week the Colts were regaining the lead. Now they are stuck in a two-score hole, and honestly this drive was handled very poorly. It should have been a hurry-up situation with a lot of shotgun and passing, but instead they were taking their time and running too much.
Luck scrambled for three yards to deny Watt another sack. The Colts’ lone third-down conversion of the day was Allen getting a carry on 3rd and 1 for a strange 3-yard gain. But then Luck was sacked again by Watt. He overcame it with a tough pass to Allen for 16 yards.
But after Ballard only gained a yard, Luck was under heavy pressure and just threw the ball away. He was out of the pocket, but the pass did not reach the line of scrimmage. They called intentional grounding to set up 3rd and 20. It was going to be a sack either way. Nothing else Luck could do here.
On 3rd and 20 he threw a good pass to Wayne, but he failed to make the catch with coverage all over him. A completion, and the Colts could go for it. Instead they had to punt and Houston was able to all but run it out with Arian Foster, adding another field goal to the lead.
Drive No. 11
Drive Stats: 1:05 left, leading 29-17. 4 plays, 21 yards (end of game).
Without a timeout and needing two touchdowns in 65 seconds, the Colts were in no real hurry here. Luck was dumped for the fifth time on the day to start the drive, then injured center A.Q. Shipley had an interesting argument with his teammates to stay on the field, only to take a dive with a real injury. He came out.
Luck completed a 21-yard pass to Coby Fleener on his only target of the day. That’s not good news for many reasons. Thinking the game was over, Luck spiked the ball with one second left. That gives him a league-high eight spikes this season.
They may have very well done it just so Luck could throw a pass to Wayne, which he barely caught for a 7-yard gain, to extend his streak of consecutive games with at least three receptions. Yep, Wayne finished with just three grabs for 14 yards on the day.
Then it was officially over.
Andrew Luck finished 13 of 27 for 186 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, and a 95.6 passer rating. He was sacked five times and had two runs for 10 yards.
Luck only had one first down on his first 13 drop backs.
The 0/7 on third down is troubling, though it was a result of not keeping it manageable against the league’s toughest third-down defense. Of the seven attempts, four of them were on 3rd and 15 or greater. Twice it wouldn’t have even mattered if Luck made a better throw due to the offensive penalty that would have wiped it out.
Here is the summary of Luck’s 14 incompletions:
- 3 passes defensed
- 3 passes thrown wide
- 2 passes dropped (both by Hilton)
- 2 intentional throwaways (one intentional grounding)
- 1 pass defensed-dropped (by Wayne)
- 1 pass where Luck was hit as he threw
- 1 pass batted at line of scrimmage
- 1 spike
After eight overthrows last week, Luck did much better in terms of accuracy. According to STATS, one of his incompletions to Hilton was an overthrow, but I (and Pro Football Focus) both feel they were dropped passes he should have came up with. On that first one you can see the ball change motion after briefly going through his hands.
So why the overall lackluster 13-completion day? Pressure of course.
Houston pressured Luck a season-high 51.5 percent of the time. They did it by being very aggressive with 54.5 percent blitzes, including six plays where they rushed at least six. Only the Packers blitzed Luck more this season.
It was very successful, and Watt was a huge reason for that. He had three sacks and six tackles for losses in the game. He also forced that Mewelde Moore fumble at the 1-yard line. Just a monster game and you better get used to hearing about Watt when the Colts play Houston twice a year. He’s unbelievable.
With all the pressure, the play-action pass didn’t even seem viable. They only went to it four times, and Luck was dumped for sacks on the two legit attempts. The other two times it was just to use a little fake before throwing a bubble screen. That first screen worked well for the Colts, gaining 17 yards, but the other two were snuffed out rather easily. But that’s a bit different than looking for a big play down the field.
Crazy stat from ESPN: in his first career start, Washington rookie Kirk Cousins was 15/19 for 229 yards and 2 TD on play-action passes.
In his last five games combined, Andrew Luck is 14/29 for 204 yards and 3 TD on play-action. That’s almost a third of the season, and Luck dropped back 226 times in those games. It doesn’t get much different in terms of play-action use. Washington does it the most, while the Colts are near the bottom because they can’t protect long enough to use it more.
As for YAC, Hilton had 44 of the 83 yards this week. A total of 23 came on the touchdown alone when he just had to jog to the end zone.
The empty backfield was only used twice. They could not afford the lack of extra pass protection on this day. On his five sacks, Luck was contacted within an average of 3.20 seconds after the snap. Not much time there.
That was the theme of the game for Luck.
Next game: The Chiefs are the worst team in the league. This is a game for the defense to get some confidence, some takeaways, and for the offense to get back on track with a more efficient performance. The Chiefs do not have a strong pass rush, so Luck should not be feeling as much pressure as he has lately. But hopefully the Colts can pull out a convincing win, which would be their 10th on the season and clinch a playoff spot.