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Game Charting: Andrew Luck Outside the Pocket

Well, the 2013 season is just about upon us. Training camp officially starts, the CA Radio shows are back and we'll finally have some fresh material to analyze. 

But, sadly, the onset of a new season means that the time-consuming charting projects will slow down dramatically. 

So, here's one of the final in-depth charting projects of the summer: a look at all of Andrew Luck's activity outside of the pocket. I decided to do the charting after getting assigned this article for Bleacher Report. Unfortunately, I didn't get to finish the charting completely for that piece, so all the nitty-gritty details are here for you now. 

First, the bare details. I took a look at every dropback from Luck during the 2012 season, including the wildcard game against Baltimore. I charted every dropback that resulted in a scramble outside of the pocket, including runs. 

To count for my charting, Luck had to be completely out of the pocket to the right or left, or actually throwing on the run while scrambling up the middle (more on this later). 

At first glance, the numbers don't look like anything to write home about. 

Luck's touchdown numbers look low, his completion percentage is awful and nothing really stands out. We already knew Luck was an effective runner, so a high YPC on scrambles isn't surprising. 

But looking at a few different splits should give us a better idea of what is happening with the numbers. 

Before we do that, however, we need to clarify one thing: the TD numbers are pretty much going to be low throughout the piece for one main reason: Luck didn't get much of a chance to scramble while near the endzone. Arians ran a lot of quick passes in the redzone, and less than 1/4th of Luck's scrambles came inside the opponents 40-yard line. Only 13 came inside the redzone. So, no matter what the splits are, the TD numbers aren't going to be eye-popping.

On to the numbers!

First, we'll split the season in two. Luck started off the season slowly in this aspect of his game, but was a monster as the season went on.

Through the first six games of the season, Luck was throwing for a paltry 39% outside the pocket, and only gaining 5 yards per attempt. Starting with a great game against Tennessee in Week 8 (In which he was 7-8 for 102 yards), however, he was fantastic outside the pocket. 

Not only is Y/A of 8.87 fantastic (league leader Robert Griffin III threw for 8.1 in 2012), but that's with an incredibly high drop rate (15% is nearly double Luck's 3rd-highest drop percentage of 8.0% overall). Looking at the numbers, every single category improved after the first six games, as Luck got much more comfortable with his reads, and his throws on the run got more accurate (19 inaccurate throws in the first six games as compared to 12 in the final 11). 

Another area where Luck's splits took a big jump was third down, as you can see in the following table (From Week 8 on)

Don't ask me why (statistically you would say it's an aberration due to a small sample size, but I prefer to believe in Luck having magical clutch powers. There's even a few numbers to back it up), but Luck was much more effective on third (or fourth) down than he was on first and second. 

I've yet to come up with a logical explanation, but we've been over Luck's superiority on third down before, and here's more confirmation of that. 

The final split that I ran the charting through was by direction. I categorized each play in one of the following: Bootleg (right) or scramble (right, left or middle). The bootleg was specifically for play calls that had Luck immediately rolling out to his right, usually off of a play-action fake.

Now, the small sample sizes make for some exaggerated numbers, but there are still a few things we can take from here. 

  • Luck scrambled to his right and the middle most often, which isn't surprising, but what was impressive was how many plays he made even while running to his left. A 47% completion rate and a rating of 70.1 isn't fantastic (Remember that TD rate impacts the passer rating dramatically), but a Y/A of 7.9 is more than respectable, especially when considering that Luck is basically creating something out of a broken play.
  • Watching the tape, Luck's propensity to sprint through holes in the middle of the pocket and either A) rifle a pass into a tight window or B) take off running for a big play, was astounding. On 42 scrambles up the middle Luck gained nearly 400 yards, and had a Y/A of nearly 13.2 (!). 
  • The bootleg to the right, a staple in the Houston offense for years now, was surprisingly unsuccessful, but if matched with the film it makes sense. Too often the defense didn't fall for the playfake, and as Luck turned to roll out he found himself faced with one or (usually) more defenders in his face. 
  • Luck's numbers while scrambling to the right look worse than they should be due to an unusually high number of drops on that side. Drops on scrambles to the right nullified some of Luck's most impressive plays, such as this horrific drop by Donnie Avery in the end zone after a great play by Luck. Avery, for some reason, tries to catch the ball with his facemask (sadly not the first or last time in 2012), prompting Luck to cast him a disdainful glare as he walked off the field.

After watching each play and matching up the statistics with my viewing, I came away with a few thoughts. 

First, Luck is as athletic as they come, and any worries about arm strength can be put to bed. He has all the physical tools that he needs to be an elite, dare I even say all-time great, quarterback.

Second, if Pep Hamilton can get Luck out in the open with some space in front of him, good things will happen. I'm not saying run a read-option, or anything close to that. There are ways you can get Luck open space without risking hits (play-action bootlegs, designed roll-outs, etc.). Luck needs to develop better ball security and feel in the pocket, but there's nothing wrong with cheating a little and giving him extra room. 

Not only does this put the defense on edge, having to worry about Luck's threat as a runner, but it also give Luck wider throwing lanes and space improvise. 

I don't want to see the RG3 offense from 2012 or anything like that, but maybe a couple more roll-outs per game to shoot for a big play over the top. Luck's best quality is his ability to create, to make 'wow' plays happen. Hamilton's offense needs to help Luck improve his efficiency, but it also needs to preserve that ability to make a big play happen at any time. Getting Luck out of the pocket into open space at times may be one way to make that happen.

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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