Following a Legend: Andrew Luck AFC Wild Card at Baltimore Ravens

Andrew Luck’s record-breaking rookie season came to a disappointing end in a 24-9 loss in Baltimore in the AFC Wild Card round. Even in defeat, Luck set rookie playoff records with 28 completions and 54 pass attempts, while throwing for the most yards (288) since Sammy Baugh way back in 1937.

But the experienced Ravens were too much for the Colts, and the weaknesses of the offensive line and the defense were too much to overcome. The receivers also struggled with a season-worst number of dropped passes. Also not helping matters was offensive coordinator and potential Coach of the Year winner Bruce Arians missing the game after an illness.

It wouldn’t be the postseason without the Colts doing something unusual in defeat, as they became the first team to gain over 400 yards of offense – 419 to be exact – and score fewer than 10 points. The nine points match a season low.

No one thought Luck would get his first taste of the postseason this soon, and the experience can only be invaluable moving forward. While his performance may have been spotty, the nation was able to watch a team that relied on their rookie quarterback to carry them to this point.

Now we head into the offseason to see how the Colts can help Luck get better for 2013, but before that we look at the final game of his memorable rookie season.

Drive No. 1

Drive Stats: 15:00 left (1st quarter), tied 0-0. 4 plays, 16 yards (punt).

Colts won the coin toss and elected to receive. You would not have known Arians was missing, as the Colts started with an end around to Donnie Avery. This one actually worked well for a 15-yard gain. Not much else would work for Avery this day.

Moving to the empty backfield/shotgun, Coby Fleener was unable to snatch Luck’s quick pass to the right flat on a pick play. This would be a sign of things to come. The bubble screen to T.Y. Hilton only gained a yard, as he was tackled by Paul Kruger, who had a big game. On 3rd and 9, the Ravens brought six and Luck’s pass was tipped at the line by Ed Reed. The pass fell incomplete and the Colts punted. Three quick passes, but almost no production.

Drive No. 2

Drive Stats: 10:55 left, tied 0-0. 14 plays, 52 yards (Luck sack/fumble).

After catching a break on a Ray Rice red zone fumble, the Colts started at their own 11. On 3rd and 7, Luck initially had time, but under pressure he scrambled ahead and gained just enough for the first down. Off play action Luck’s deep ball for Reggie Wayne was overthrown. Staying aggressive, another deep ball to Hilton was overthrown, though he was illegally contacted, resulting in a five-yard penalty and first down.

A nicely designed screen to Hilton only gained seven yards, but enough for another first down. Under pressure, Luck pulled a Ben Roethlisberger and still threw the ball, and Reed missed an interception. This usually gets called in the grasp for a sack, but the refs – Mike Carey called the Colts “Indiana” and “Baltimore” in the game – let it go. Luck probably shouldn’t have let it go, but got away with the incompletion.

Getting another chance, Luck converted the 3rd and 4 with a 9-yard pass to Wayne. After two good runs by Vick Ballard, the Colts went back to play action and a deep pass. Luck’s throw was low, and Wayne made a diving attempt that CBS’ Jim Nantz did not find conclusively incomplete from one replay angle. Wayne did get his hands underneath the ball first, but he may have used the ground to secure the catch, which is no good.

The Colts did not challenge, which would have been wiser than the one they challenge in the fourth quarter. Anyways, on 3rd and 5, as we have seen too often this season, a defender came in and knocked the ball out of Luck’s hand, resulting in a fumble. There were receivers open on crossing patterns, but Luck did not have the time to make the throw, and the Ravens had a huge takeaway to end the long drive.

Drive No. 3

Drive Stats: 2:49 left, tied 0-0. 5 plays, 19 yards (punt).

This time Fleener made the catch in the flat for six yards. Two plays later Luck went deep, was pressured, and the ball landed out of bounds for Hilton. On 3rd and 7, the pressure got to Luck again, he scrambled, but could only gain three yards this time. Colts punted.

Drive No. 4

Drive Stats: 11:18 left (2nd quarter), trailing 3-0. 3 plays, 8 yards (three-and-out drive).

The Ravens broke through on the scoreboard, while the Colts nearly had a disastrous turnover. Luck’s pass was again tipped at the line (Haloti Ngata did it), and it took a perfect path right to the hands of the waiting Ray Lewis, but fortunately the Universal Solider dropped the ball.

Another screen to Hilton gained eight yards. On 3rd and 2, Hilton saw Bernard Pollard coming and dropped the ball even before getting hit. The bad drop ended the drive, which was a three and out.

Drive No. 5

Drive Stats: 8:09 left, trailing 3-0. 9 plays, 51 yards (Adam Vinatieri 47-yard field goal).

Two runs set up a 3rd and 5. Luck threw to Wayne, who had Avery directly in front of him as a blocker for an 8-yard gain on a well-designed play. Luck went to Dwayne Allen in coverage over the middle, and he broke a tackle for a 22-yard gain. Two plays later a tight end screen to Allen showed off some more athleticism as he gained 13 yards.

Ballard carried for two, then Luck was smashed by two Ravens for a sack. On 3rd and 14, Luck threw short to Fleener to make the field goal easier. The play gained seven yards. Adam Vinatieri was good for the 47-yard field goal to tie the game.

Drive No. 6

Drive Stats: 0:50 left, trailing 10-3. 6 plays, 46 yards (Adam Vinatieri 52-yard field goal).

The great quarterbacks and teams score before the half, and Luck has been doing that for the Colts all season. Down to 0:50 and three timeouts, this was a crucial drive after the Ravens scored a touchdown.

Hilton took a screen and got out of bounds after just a 4-yard gain. Wayne nestled in over the middle for 13 yards and the Colts used their first timeout. Another pass to Wayne over the middle gained 20 yards. Luck had hit seven straight at this point.

Kruger knocked a pass down just beyond the line to end that streak. Under instant pressure, Luck did what he could to avoid the sack, but his pass did not reach the line, resulting in an intentional grounding. It took an eternity to sort out with the 10-second runoff, but in the end the Colts faced 3rd and 26 at their own 41 with 0:12 and one timeout.

Luck stepped up in the pocket and threw to Hilton, who made the catch and did a great spin to pick up more yards and get out of bounds. He gained 25 yards, but it was the best completion for a non-first down for the Colts this season. That allowed Vinatieri to hit a postseason career-long 52-yard field goal, and the Colts trailed 10-6 at the half.

After watching the Bengals and Vikings combine for 0 net passing yards on the road on Saturday, Luck was 13 of 23 for 143 yards in the first half.

Drive No. 7

Drive Stats: 12:27 left (3rd quarter), trailing 10-6. 5 plays, 5 yards (punt).

The offense started the second half with a false start (Fleener), which would be a problem as they had three in this half. With a rare showing of perfect pass protection, Luck started with a 15-yard strike to Wayne. But that was fleeting as Terrell Suggs came in for a near sack, and Luck threw incomplete to Allen. Make what you will of this funny picture after the play.

A high snap doomed the 3rd and 10, and Bradley Sowell getting smoked by Kruger made for an easy sack to end the drive.

Drive No. 8

Drive Stats: 8:26 left, trailing 17-6. 14 plays, 72 yards (Adam Vinatieri 26-yard field goal).

Now down 11 points, the Colts needed points in a hurry. Luck was feeling the pressure as Carey Williams batted his pass down. On 3rd and 4, Luck found LaVon Brazill over the middle for 17 yards. Running the hurry up, no one was on Avery, who gained five yards. On a 3rd and 2, Luck scrambled and slid for six yards to convert.

Starting to slow their pace, the Colts used a screen for six yards to Hilton. On 3rd and 2 Luck used the play action to get the ball to Ballard for three yards. The Colts were using this play for the tight end earlier in the season, but it has been missing. After Ballard lost two yards on the ground, Luck found Wayne with a bullet for 20 yards down the middle, where he was very effective on the day.

Into the red zone for the first time all day, the Colts dialed up Mewelde Moore’s number twice on the ground. Are we sure Arians didn’t sneak into the building and call these plays? That set up a 3rd and 4, and Luck tried a slant to Wayne. The pass was a hair behind, but hit Wayne in the hands and deflected into the end zone incomplete.

It was a long march, but disappointingly resulted in yet another field goal from Vinatieri.

Drive No. 9

Drive Stats: 14:15 left (4th quarter), trailing 17-9. 6 plays, 49 yards (Adam Vinatieri 40-yard field goal is wide right).

It is fitting the Colts’ season would come down to a fourth quarter comeback. Getting another gift of a fumble from Rice, Luck had the ball at his own 29 and a 17-9 deficit. Ballard started things with a 5-yard run, then staying in the no huddle, Luck found Wayne for 19 yards. Ballard then ripped off a 24-yard run, and quickly the momentum was changing in this one.

The Colts caught Baltimore with 12 players on the field, but gave the five yards right back with another false start. Under pressure from Kruger, Luck overshot Wayne. After Ballard only gained a yard, Luck threw short to Avery, who flat out dropped the ball. He may have been tackled short of the first down, but a catch would have given the Colts a shorter field goal or fourth-down option.

Instead Vinatieri shocked everyone with a bad kick that was wide right from 40 yards out. Baltimore practically drove for the clinching touchdown afterwards to take a 24-9 lead.

Drive No. 10

Drive Stats: 9:14 left, trailing 24-9. 12 plays, 62 yards (Andrew Luck interception returned to IND 44).

A lot of great comebacks this year, but this one was a tall order. Luck started with completions of nine and seven yards to Allen. Hilton fell down near the sideline, resulting in an incompletion. On 3rd and 3, Avery finally held on to one for a 7-yard conversion. Wayne then took a big hit for just a 5-yard gain.

Luck delivered one on a rope to Avery inside the 30, but he lost control of the ball on the ground after Bernard Pollard scraped over him. It was ruled incomplete, the Colts challenged, and of course lost as the rules for a catch are so bizarre these days. But Avery needs to hang onto that one.

Luck then had his best scramble of the day for 18 yards. It was his third run for a first down on third down in the game, and Luck did that 16 times total this season. Hilton had a good block for Luck.

The next pass skipped off the ground for Wayne as he was running towards the end zone. Hilton broke a tackle to pick up nine yards. But on 3rd and 1, Allen slipped with the pass coming his way. That set up a critical 4th and 1, and the Colts went with the unfavorable empty backfield.

A quick throw to Wayne was read easily by the defense, and the Ravens tipped the ball, where it was intercepted by Cary Williams, who took it down the sideline. Maybe the Colts can scrap all plays to Wayne on the left side of the field in the fourth quarter of a playoff game.

Luck did a good job of making the tackle to prevent the touchdown. The Colts got lucky on some tipped balls earlier in the game, but not this time.

Drive No. 11

Drive Stats: 3:46 left, trailing 24-9. 9 plays, 53 yards (turnover on downs).

With the ball at his own 10, Luck had just 3:46 left to deliver the most miraculous win of the season. His pass was on target to Wayne near the IND 35, but Wayne dropped it and took a big hit. That actually drew a very fortunate 15-yard flag on Pollard.

Kruger got in on Luck again, and his pass sailed to Wayne. Luck escaped the sack and threw a good pass to Hilton, but he dropped it at midfield. Pollard was flagged again for taunting the Colts, though the 10 extra yards from the catch would have been nicer if Hilton hung on. Hilton caught his next target for six yards near the sidelines as Luck continued to be pressured.

Luck skipped one into Hilton, but converted another third down with a 12-yard pass to Fleener. Luck’s next pass was defended in traffic. Wayne was left open for a 5-yard gain near the sideline.

Luck went deep for Brazill, but he mistimed his jump and wasn’t close to making the catch. This was probably the deepest Luck threw for the end zone all day out of 54 throws.

Down to a 4th and 5, the last chance ended fittingly as Ballard dropped the pass in the right flat. It was eerily similar to Peyton Manning’s first playoff game against the 1999 Titans when Edgerrin James dropped a fourth-down pass in a similar situation.

The Ravens were able to run out the clock and end the Colts’ season.

 

Summary

Andrew Luck finished 28 of 54 for 288 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, and a 59.8 passer rating. He ran four times for 35 yards, was sacked three times and lost one fumble.

Of much interest this week is the number of dropped passes. Never an official stat, the number varies depending on who you ask. An ESPN news piece from after the game said seven drops: Hilton (2), Wayne (2), Avery (1), Ballard (1) and Fleener (1). ESPN also said that is the most by any team in the last three years including playoffs. Interesting. Pro Football Focus had five drops: Hilton (2), Avery (2), Ballard (1).

My count, doing it the way I have all season with drops and defensed-drops, is eight drops, and here is the proof. Keep in mind a ninth play would have been Wayne on the last drive, but it was negated by Bernard Pollard’s penalty. A rough day indeed.

Here is the full summary of the 26 incompletions this week:

  • 8 passes dropped
  • 5 passes defensed (one interception)
  • 4 passes overthrown
  • 2 passes batted at line of scrimmage
  • 2 passes where the receiver fell down/slipped
  • 2 passes underthrown
  • 1 pass where Luck was hit as he threw
  • 1 pass thrown wide
  • 1 intentional throwaway (called for grounding)

One last time this season, a look at the stats we have been tracking.

The pressure percentage (27.9) was actually the lowest since the New England game. However, when the Ravens did get pressure, it was usually very successful, as Luck’s only big pass play was when he stepped up in the pocket on that 3rd and 26 right before halftime.

While Baltimore blitzed a decent amount, they were not overly aggressive. The pressure came often in the first quarter, then Luck got into a rhythm in the second. But late in the half and into the fourth quarter, the pressure was persistent again, and the Colts fell behind 15 points. That’s when Baltimore eased up as Luck tried to run the hurry-up late.

Overall it was not a good day for the offensive line, as Clyde Christensen’s play calling really helped make them look not as terrible as they are capable of.

Six screen passes were used effectively, but the bigger story was the quick throwing in general. The pressure would have been worse without so many quick passes. Luck’s STR (snap-to-release time) was the lowest of the season at 2.57 seconds because of 20 passes thrown at 2.2 seconds or less.

Luck was pressured just once on those 20 quick passes, but only completed 11 of them for 65 yards and four first downs. Of the nine incompletions, there were five drops, a pass batted at the line, Allen falling down, Kruger dropping back and knocking down a pass for Avery, and of course the interception off a tipped ball.

So while the quick passing helped fight the pressure, the Colts did not make enough catches or plays for this to work productively.

Though using the play-action pass a dozen times, five of the six completions were on those screen passes with a little fake in them. The Colts were unable to set up the big play, which is part of why they never found the end zone this week.

I will return in the offseason with some more data on Luck’s rookie season that I was not able to put together on a weekly basis. But as for this season, the movie is over, and hopefully this column was helpful in following this young quarterback. Here is the list of links for each game’s recap:

 

If you have any suggestions, questions or comments, feel free to e-mail me at smk_42@yahoo.com or find me on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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