The Colts may be 3-4, and have only just climbed their way off the foot of the division with this week’s win over the Titans, but Andrew Luck is having the best individual season of his career.
Tennessee took the first lead of the game this week against the Colts, and took another lead with six minutes to go in the game, but then Andrew Luck happened.
Luck took over with the ball on the Indianapolis 30-yard line and drove 70 yards for the touchdown, chewing four of those six minutes off the clock. On the first play of Tennessee’s attempted reply, quarterback Marcus Mariota was sacked, fumbled the ball, and Colts edge rusher Robert Mathis scooped and scored to put the game away. But the statement was made by Luck.
For once the box score does a pretty good job of representing his play in this game. He completed 27 of 39 pass attempts (69.2 percent) for 353 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating for the game was 123.1. If you adjust for four drops, one pass where he was hit as he threw, and another batted at the line, his passer rating on true “aimed” passes was 129.7.
Under pressure we saw some of the old ice-cool Andrew Luck. He was pressured on 17 of his 43 dropbacks this week (46.5 percent), which is actually marginally up on his season total heading into the game of 41.3, but his performance under pressure this week was remarkable. When the Titans hurried him, his passer rating was still 97.9, and he completed 61.1 percent of his pass attempts.
If anything Luck, was even better than the numbers suggest. Late in the second quarter the Colts had to settle for a field goal when Luck had earned them a touchdown. He dissected the Titans coverage in the red zone to put the ball right on his TE Jack Doyle, only to see him drop the ball. It wasn’t a perfect pass – it could have been a little lower – but it should have been a touchdown on third down.
That would have put Indianapolis 21-6 in front having fallen behind to the opening score and could well have put the game firmly out of reach of the Titans.
Luck now sits at No. 2 in the PFF QB grades with a score of 88.9, which is the highest mark of his career over a season. Only New England's Tom Brady currently has a higher grade. And Luck is achieving this despite an offensive line that is at best an average unit.
As a group, the Colts' O-line has the lowest pass-blocking efficiency score in the entire league at 72.3, which is a per-snap measurement of the pressure they have surrendered, with higher weighting given to sacks. They have allowed 113 total pressures, which isn’t just the most in the league, but is 16 more than anybody else. For perspective, Green Bay has allowed 36 pressures all season.
To the Colts' credit, the line is better than that when they are healthy and have their five best guys out there. Much of the issue came from when they were forced deep into the bench and at one point were starting three rookies out of five, all alongside each other from center to right tackle. The line also has to contend with the Colts' style of offense and Luck’s propensity to hold the ball for a long time. Through seven weeks of the season, only Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor has a higher average time per pass attempt than Luck’s 2.75 seconds. Luck likes to hold the ball and look down the field, and that puts stress on his linemen that other units don’t have to deal with.
It’s not a huge excuse, though, because this season Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Dallas' Dak Prescott are among those ranked right behind Luck in terms of average time with the ball in their hands, and those two have two of the best offensive lines in the game blocking for them.
The bottom line is that Luck faces as much pressure as anybody in the league. This season he has been pressured on 41.1 percent of his dropbacks, which is the most in the league outside of Cleveland’s Cody Kessler.
The Colts have often taken a cavalier attitude towards improving their offensive line because of the opinion that Luck could overcome their shortcomings and get the job done even in the face of pressure. Last season that unspooled in spectacular fashion, and he simply wasn’t able to do that, performing poorly and dealing with injuries as a result of the hits he was taking. This year he looks back to his best, able to overcome an iffy unit up front and still deliver game-winning strikes with regularity.
The rest of the Colts' roster is clearly not up to much, but they are now only a game back from the division lead, so the playoffs are definitely a very real goal. This team may not have the ability to content for a Super Bowl, but with Andrew Luck playing the best football of his career, they are a team with the ability to scare anybody.