Andrew Luck’s First Playoff Performance: Poised Under Pressure

Well, we’ve discussed how the Colts’ receivers let Andrew Luck down on Sunday, and now I’d like to move into one last topic for that game.

As I said earlier this week, it’s my belief that this was a fantastic performance from Luck, one of his best games of the year, and the best performance from a rookie quarterback this past weekend (one of the most impressive rookie playoff performances of all time, in my humble opinion).

One of the reasons why the performance was as impressive as it was is the lack of protection Luck received all game. The Colts tried to mitigate that pressure by calling a lot of quick passes, yet the Ravens still managed to pick up three sacks and pressure Luck on anywhere from 15-21 plays (depending on how you measure pressure).

I went back and looked at how often Luck was pressured and how he handled it, and came away impressed.

First, some raw numbers: on 61 drop backs, I had Luck as pressured or unable to step into a throw due to a man directly in his face on 28 snaps.

On those 28 snaps, Luck went 9-21, was sacked three times, and scrambled four times (three for a first down). Of those 12 incompletions, three were drops, he was hit while throwing on five, had one tipped at the line, one miscommunication with Wayne deep, one defended (a short throw to Avery, again after an athletic escape), and one thrown out of bounds (deep right to Hilton, Fleener pushed back into his face and he was unable to step into it).

I was really impressed overall with how Luck handled the pressure. The raw numbers don’t look good, but in context you appreciate what Luck does for the team.

First he really only had two poor throws where he wasn’t hit while throwing. Here’s what happens on those three plays.

The first was with 56 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Coby Fleener is left one-on-one with Paul Kruger (sounds like a good plan), and gets quickly pushed back into Luck’s way, leaving him with this very unseemly position.

Caught in an awful position to throw the ball, unable to step up or even really see his target, Luck’s throw goes out of bounds.

The second play came with 8:26 left in the third. On the play, Luck can’t find anybody, escapes from pressure, and throws a little jump pass to Avery (crossing over the middle), who is covered tightly. The ball is knocked down by the defender.

I don’t fault Luck for either of these plays really, both were forced into incompletions, but he didn’t take a sack and lived to fight another down (neither play on third down). In fact, of his incompletions under pressure, only one was on third down, and it was a ball that was tipped at the line in the first quarter. He did have one incompletion on fourth down under pressure, the drop by Ballard at the end of the game.

On the other hand, Luck was making great plays under pressure that sometimes didn’t get into the final box score. This one for example, a great escape by Luck and a perfect throw that was dropped by T.Y. Hilton.

On this one, Kruger loops around Linkenbach and Satele and has Luck in his grasp. This should be a sack.

Somehow, Luck shakes him off and takes off to his right, and sees T.Y. Hilton (upper right) breaking for the sideline.

Luck throws a perfect pass to Hilton, who has it in his hands, but drops it. Fortunately, the Colts ended up getting 15 on the play as Bernard Pollard got hit with a taunting penalty, but it’s play that goes against Luck in the stats, despite a perfect escape and pass on what should have been a 25-30-yard gain.

Those are just a few examples of how Luck’s extending of the play and poise under pressure were on display on Sunday, despite the fact that they may not have ended up in the raw stats. 

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.