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Andrew Luck’s Sub-Two-Minute Drives: A Closer Look

On Monday, I discovered that Andrew Luck had one of the greatest seasons in this millenium in what I call "sub-two-minute" drives.

Sub-two-minute drives are drives that begin after the 2:00 mark at the end of the second and fourth quarters, drives that have to be quick and efficient as the team attempts to score before time runs out. It's an area where Luck and the Colts were very successful in during 2012, and today I'd like to look closer at those drives. 

First, let's take a look at all the drives that qualify for sub-two-minute drives, and categorize them. The Colts received the ball with less than two minutes left 26 times in 2012, at least once in every game. To the left you can see how they broke down in terms of outcome.

But those numbers don't quite tell the whole story either. Some didn't matter, some may not have actually been a situation where the Colts needed to score, etc. 

So, let's start with the bottom two categories, the turnovers. The lone fumble on such drives came from Reggie Wayne during a 4th-quarter drive by the Colts during their loss to the Jets. Wayne's fumble came when the game was already over, as the Colts were down 35-7. That drive doesn't quite apply to what we're looking at, so we can toss that one out. 

The interception, on the other hand, occurred on a valid drive, even if the interception in this case is a bit of a throwaway stat. The pick came on a Hail Mary from the Colts' 47-yard line, so it's no detriment to Luck, but the fact that the Colts had an opportunity to get in scoring position on the drive and didn't makes it valid for our purposes here. 

Now, the touchdown drives. All three touchdown drives were valid, without any garbage-time drives. One, of course, was the game-winning drive against the Lions. Another was against the Vikings in Week 2, a touchdown that gave the Colts a 17-6 lead going into halftime. The final score was a touchdown against the Texans in Week 15, which put the Colts back in the game with a 10-20 deficit going into halftime.

Of the four punt drives, one doesn't fit into our study here, as the Colts led the Browns 17-13 when they got the ball with 1:54 left. The Colts went right for the clock, running the ball five times (getting one first down on a 26-yard run by Vick Ballard) and then punted, giving the Browns one second. The other three punts, however, all came in the first half when the Colts still needed points. 

All but two of the Colts field goal attempts came in the second quarter, and thus are perfectly valid. The two in the fourth quarter both came when the Colts were down or tied, and are also valid. 

Now we get to the most common outcome: the end of the half or game. But which were drives that the Colts' ran out of time, and which were drives in which the Colts actively searched for the end of the half? 

Of the nine games, five ended in kneels while two more ended in game-ending run plays. The two remaining drives both count, even if one came when the Colts were down two scores and had less than 70 seconds left. 

So, add it all up and we have 16 drives in which the Colts were actually looking to score. 17 opportunities, and 11 successful offensive drives make for a pretty good ratio for the rookie quarterback. 

So let's look at the six drives that didn't score. On three of the drives, the Colts were moving the ball, but ran out of time before they could get in scoring range. All three came after the opponent scored: the first Jacksonville game after the Cecil Shorts incident (35 seconds left, at their own 38-yard line), the second Titans game in the first half after a Tennessee field goal (37 seconds left, their own 20-yard line) and the first Texans game after a Texans' field goal put Houston up 29-17 (1:05 left, their own 20).

So, in the Colts 17 attempts to score in under two minutes, they failed to move the ball adequately in just three of them, or 18%. Ironically, the Colts would go on to win each of those three games (Green Bay, Detroit, and the second Houston game).

You can see the breakdown of the Colts' successful drives to the right. One interesting note is that the team averaged nearly 59 yards per drive, but the drives took, on average, just 54 seconds. I don't need to tell you how efficient an offense that averages a yard per second is. 

Finally, we look at how Andrew Luck's statistics turn out for these 17 drives. In the table below you'll see Luck's stats separated by successful and unsuccessful drives, as well as the totals for all 17 drives. 

Let's point out that this can be a great example of how stats can be extremely misleading under the wrong hands. 

We've been talking about how fantastic Luck was in all of these drives, but somebody could easily come along and point out that in those drives, Luck had a pathetic 46% completion rate and below-average 78.02 passer rating. So, Luck's play during those drives is exaggerated, right?  

Wrong.

The stats for Luck in these sub-two-minute drives situations don't look great, simply because 90% of the plays were looking for "chunk" play opportunities to move the ball quickly. The efficiency of such plays isn't very high, but Luck managed to convert 11 of 17 opportunities by converting third downs and getting long plays. 

The one thing that did improve dramatically over Luck's normal statistics was his sack rate. Luck only took two sacks in 91 dropbacks, and the 2.2% sack rate was much better than his 6.1% regular season mark. Part of it could be due to defenses getting conservative in these situations, but with the plays in these drives being incredibly downfield-oriented, it's amazing that Luck managed to get the pass off so often (League average sack percentage for plays in the final two minutes of a half was 5.6%). It was also an impressive sack rate that helped Luck be so successful in game-winning drive opportunities in general. 

In reality, outside of the sack numbers, the traditional stats vs. perception while watching film in this case is also a microcosm of Luck's season. 

Traditional stats, especially efficiency stats, don't capture what made Luck special. Luck was impressive as a rookie because of his ability to convert key third downs and make big plays while leading scoring drives at key moments. His efficiency numbers didn't look good, in large part, because of the downfield focus in the offense. But the numbers didn't mean he wasn't succeeding (Just like his 24th ranked passer rating in the red zone didn't match his 11th ranked success rate).

Regardless of your position on stats, traditional or advanced, the fact that Luck led the second-most sub-two-minute drives since 2000 is impressive, and the fact that they succeeded on twice as many drives as they failed in the situation is equally extraordinary. Whether that kind of success can continue in 2013 will likely determine whether the Colts' win total will regress or not. 

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.

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