How Andrew Luck Received no Help from his Receivers

The Colts’ lost their first playoff game in the Grigson/Pagano/Luck era on Sunday, falling to the Ravens 24-9. The Colts were in a position to get back in the game or take a lead several times in the second half, but simply could not get the ball over the goalline. The lack of touchdowns combined with Cassius Vaughn and a porous run defense was too much for the young Colts team to overcome.

For the game, Andrew Luck played brilliantly, evading mass amounts of pressure and making strong throws despite rarely seeing a clean pocket. Nevertheless, some naysayers looked at Luck’s final stats (28-54, 288 yards and one interception), and either blamed the lack of scoring on him, or dismissed it as a typical, inefficient 2012 Luck game.

I don’t buy either of that. Luck was, as I said above, nothing less than brilliant throughout the game, as he received little to no help from his offensive line and receiving targets. I’ll take a closer look at the protection later this week, but today I want to look at how the Colts’ receivers hurt the offense on Sunday, especially in the second half.

(14:14 First): First drive of the game, Luck throws a little pass to Fleener in the flat. Luck’s throw isn’t good, but Fleener fails to adjust to it and the ball is just out of his reach. You have to give Luck some blame here, but Fleener should have made a better effort for the ball.

(8:41 First): Luck throws a good ball to Wayne down the middle, but Wayne loses the ball in the sun, and gets turned around, and it goes right over his head. It was actually a pretty good throw by Luck if Wayne would have been able to see the ball.

(4:44 First): On this one, Luck tries to go deep to Wayne on a deep crossing route. Not able to set his feet and plant (pressure from Winston Justice’s man), Luck’s throw is a little short, but Wayne nearly digs it out. Rewatching the play, Wayne doesn’t go back to the ball at all, but merely waits for the ball and falls forward when it’s clear it won’t get there. Again, Luck couldn’t get a good throw off, but with a small adjustment it would have been an easy catch for Wayne.

(10:32 Second): The first of several third down drops, Hilton dropped a short curl route that would have been a sure first down. Accurate throw, good play call, but Hilton just muffed it.

(0:48 Third): After a couple of Mewelde Moore runs in the redzone (apparently they didn’t learn their lesson from Week 15), the Colts had a third down and four at the Ravens eight. Wayne runs a quick slant behind Hilton, and Luck’s throw is slightly behind and high. Nevertheless, it hits Wayne in the hands, and it’s a pass he usually catches.

(11:49 Fourth): Avery runs a slant on 3rd-and-9, ball hits him in the arms at about six yards. Avery may or may not have had room to make a move and get the first, but regardless it should have been caught.

(8:20 Fourth): T.Y. Hilton runs a comeback route on the right side, and is open, but slips and falls as Luck releases the ball, causing an incomplete pass.

(6:54 Fourth): Luck throws a perfect pass to Donnie Avery down the seam, but Avery loses the ball as he hits the ground and gets jarred by the knee of a defender. It would have been about a 20-yard gain. To add insult to injury, the Colts lost the challenge on the play, and lost a timeout.

(5:39 Fourth): The Colts should have run here on 3rd and 1, but I digress. On the play, Allen runs a quick out, with Ray Lewis covering. Allen slips as Luck releases the ball, and it’s incomplete. Lewis was close, but Allen should have been able to shield him with his body.

(3:46 Fourth): After a three-and-out, they Colts got one last chance on offense. They started out with a beautiful pass from Luck to Wayne down the seam, but Wayne dropped the ball before being hit by Bernard Pollard. It would have been about a 25-yard gain, but at least the Colts got 15 on a Hit on a Defenseless Receiver penalty on Pollard.

(3:33 Fourth): Luck does a great job in the pocket, absorbing a hit by Kruger, escaping, and throwing on the run to T.Y. Hilton 35 yards downfield. Hilton drops the easy catch. The Colts did get 15 yards on a taunting penalty on Pollard, but it’s still a loss of 20 yards at least on the play.

(2:20 Fourth): On third and 4, Luck sees Brazill with a step on the corner deep left, and launches a rainbow towards the endzone. Brazill gets turned around, slows, and then makes a last ditch leap at the ball. Again, you could argue that the ball was slightly over thrown, but Brazill made possibly the worst play on the ball. If he keeps running at full speed, he catches it.

(2:14 Fourth): Now fourth down, the Colts ran Vick Ballard on a short corner route to the right, a safe call on 4th and 4. Luck hits the wide open running back, but the ball goes right through Ballard’s outstretched hands.

For the game, I counted six sure drops, two catches that should have been made (Fleener’s and Wayne’s in the redzone), three plays where poor or non-adjustments by the receiver caused the incompletion, and two plays where the receiver slipped. That’s half of Luck’s 26 incompletions! And that doesn’t even include the three passes that were batted at the line of scrimmage, or account for the vast amount of pressure that Luck dealt with all game.

Five of the drops/slips came on third or fourth down, and each of 13 plays but one or two would have been a first down.

If you came away from this game blaming Luck for offensive ineptitude, you’re not watching the game closely enough. Luck did plenty to win, but simply didn’t get enough from the rest of his offense, whether it be receivers, blocking, or playcalling. 

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.