Last year Andrew Luck finally became the elite quarterback promised by his draft hype. Yet somehow hardly anyone noticed.
But—as Reading Rainbow would say—you don’t have to take my word for it. Last year ProFootballFocus graded Luck’s 2016 season as second only to Brady’s, and the NFL1000 ranked it third behind just Rodgers and Brady. And if those grades don’t do it for you, I charted every snap Luck played last season to highlight just how talented he is. This is what good quarterbacking looks like:
What made Luck’s 2016 performance so great? It starts with his arm talent—Luck has a cannon for an arm and is consistently pinpoint accurate throwing to every level of the field.
If you didn’t get a chance to watch the Colts much last season, or even if you did, do yourself a favor and check out some of Luck’s highlight reel throws:
• On this play, Luck threw a 50-yard touchdown bullet pass, hitting Dorsett in stride. You’re not supposed to be able to throw a football this hard, this accurately.
But stuff like that was just pedestrian for Luck last year:
• Here, Luck throws 51-yards to Dorsett, despite a blitzer falling at his feet as he throws.
• Here’s another pass that goes for 50 yards, which Luck nails despite having to throw off-balance due to the blitz.
• And another.
He was doing this stuff regularly last season:
• Here Luck again hits Hilton in stride for the long touchdown pass.
• This pass goes 45 yards downfield and the receiver doesn’t even have to adjust an inch.
• Luck gets drilled by Bruce Irvin as he throws? No big deal, he’ll still deliver a 40-yard strike.
There were at least another dozen plays just like the above, but you get the idea.
And it wasn’t just the deep ball, either—Luck is consistently accurate to every level of the field. While his 63.8% completion percentage was only 16th in the NFL last year, that’s partially the product of receiver drops and an offensive system that emphasizes play-action and deep dropbacks. When you watch Luck’s tape, you see a consistently pintpoint-accurate quarterback that routinely makes his receivers look better than they are:
• Here Luck hits TY Hilton in stride to set up the game-sealing touchdown by threading the needle between the trailing corner and the safety coming to help.
• On this play, Luck hits Hilton in stride right between the numbers. Without this ball placement, this isn’t a touchdown.
• On this play, Luck is under pressure, rolling to his right, hit as he throws, and he still drops the pass right over the defender’s head and right into Hilton’s hands
• This is casual stuff for Luck.
What these gifs can’t show is the consistency with which Luck makes these kinds of throws. Plenty of quarterbacks have highlight-reel throws but miss a handful of easy throws; Luck rarely ever misses the easy throws, and at his best his peak accuracy rivals any other quarterback in the NFL.
But most people know Luck has a good arm. Few people know he moves in the pocket like Brady or Brees.
“Pocket presence” is a somewhat complicated and esoteric concept. Like “route running” for a receiver, it’s really dozens of different traits at once—it’s using your peripheral vision to anticipate and react to the pass rush, it’s keeping your eyes downfield while staying aware of your protection, it’s being able to adjust your throwing platform when the pocket gets claustrophobic, it’s keeping clean footwork in a narrow space.
Luck hasn’t had the luxury of good protection so far in his career, and while the Colts are trying to fix that, 2016 wasn’t much different. ProFootballFocus ranked their line as the 8th worst in the league last year. That meant that Luck sometimes had multiple defenders in his face before he finished his dropback, or that Luck would sometimes see immediate pressure even on three-man rushes.
Luckily for us fans, the Colts’ poor pass protection just gives us all the more highlights to showcase Luck’s elite pocket presence:
• A huge component of pocket presence is being able to throw the football from different platforms—having a QB that can adjust how he throws the ball in the face of blitzers is huge, and Luck might be the best in the NFL at it. This throw might be my favorite throw from all of last year--Luck makes this throw falling backwards to his right, right before getting hit by three defenders, off his back foot---and Luck delivers an absolute strike to Moncrief on the other side of the field for the tiptoe first down. This kind of throw shouldn’t be humanly possible.
• Or watch what Luck does on this throw, where he evades edge pressure from both sides and a 3-tech, climbs the pocket, and throws across his body while jumping and turning to his right for a 31-yard completion.
• Or watch what Luck does here for 20 yards on third down. No one picks up the blitzing safety, so Luck ducks and stretches up and away from the blitzer, keeping his eyes downfield, and while his body is contorted and falling forward, he delivers a strike to Devin Street.
But even more impressive is Luck's preternatural ability to sense pressure. Sometimes it just seems like Luck has eyes on the back of his head. This play isn’t that impressive off the box score, but notice how Luck can sense and evade the edge pressure coming from behind him. Very few quarterbacks can sense and react to pressure this well. Even fewer can do that while keeping their eyes downfield, reading the defense and finding open receivers (while also keeping track of every pass rusher). It’s uncanny. But Luck makes it look casual:
• On this play, Julius Peppers beats Castonzo to the edge and is about to sack Luck, not just from his blind side, but literally from behind, and Luck somehow just knows to step up in the pocket. In the end it’s just a simple 6-yard scramble, but again, how does he know where the pressure is coming from?
• Here Luck again demonstrates his ability to watch and react to the blitz in his peripheral vision while reading the opposite side of the field, buying time to find the open man and hit him in stride.
• On this play, right before Luck gets hit from edge pressure on both side, he steps up in a closing pocket and finds Hilton for 24 yards.
The crazy thing is this elite pocket presence is on display basically every play:
• Here Luck evades the free rusher while steadily going through progressions to get off a difficult leaping throw to Devin Street. Note the arm talent on display here as well—because of the collapsed pocket, Luck can’t set his feet for this throw, and the pass is all arm. No big deal, Luck still gets the ball 20-yards downfield right in front of his receiver.
• On this play, Luck faces edge pressure from both Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, as well as a green dog blitz from Todd Davis. No problem, Luck just steps up and over in his pocket to avoid DeMarcus Ware and then spins like he’s LaDainian Tomlinson to break Davis’ tackle and run for the first down.
• Luck has become a very patient quarterback, which combined with his pocket presence buys him time to make spectacular plays; here he waits until the pocket closes in on all four sides before sneaking a pass over a defensive lineman for 20 yards.
Luck is surprisingly elusive and slippery. He has a running back’s balance and footwork in the pocket, which combined with his pocket awareness, sets up some incredible plays: here, Luck scrambles away from the unblocked safety to climb the pocket and convert on third down. Given how talented he is as a runner you almost wish he ran the ball more often.
But lots of quarterbacks are elusive. What separates Luck from other elusive quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson is Luck will buy space in the pocket and only abandon his protection when necessary:
• On this play, Luck faces another Denver blitz, but rather than rolling to his right (where he’d be sacked), he steps up in the pocket and stands tall to get a deep pass off before getting hit.
• On this play, once the pocket breaks down, Luck escapes to his right, but rather than scrambling and throwing the ball away (or taking a sack), Luck resets his feet just in time to throw a perfect touchdown pass that his receiver fails to bring in.
- Here Luck breaks two tackles in the pocket before finding Gore on the out route.
Luck still takes his fair share of sacks, but one thing you notice when you watch him on tape is he really does everything he can to not get sacked. He never gets blindsided, and in fact, even when he is sacked he’ll usually first manage to escape a couple pressures and even fall forward while being tackled. See here, here or here. The outcome of the play is basically the same, but Luck consistently does everything he can to make the play succeed, including escaping pressure as long as humanly possible.
In past years, decisionmaking was Luck’s Achilles heel. Too often Luck would try to Favre balls to receivers and cost his team turnovers. In 2016, Luck was a lot more prudent and patient, willing to wait for the right decision:
• In this pick play (reminiscent of Super Bowl XLIX), Donte Moncrief should be open as soon as TY Hilton sets the screen. It’s a good play call and pre-snap read, and after the snap Luck immediately looks for Moncrief to get open. But the Lions predict the call well, and safety Glover Quin quickly sinks down to cover Moncrief. Old Luck would have Favre’d this ball to Moncrief for a Quin interception; 2016 Luck bides his time until Moncrief cuts upfield for the touchdown. This kind of patience is a big improvement for Luck.
• On this play, Luck goes through each of his five progressions near the goal line, and rather than forcing a pass, waits until the coverage breaks down to find Hilton for the touchdown.
All that’s not to say that Luck didn’t make any bad decisions; every quarterback makes a few, and Luck could still improve a bit in this area. You could argue that Dorsett should have fought back to the ball better on this play, but Luck shouldn’t have forced this throw late.
• On this play, Luck throws the comeback too late, giving Hayward the easy interception. Chester Rogers doesn’t run the route well here, and appears to lose his balance rather than cutting back cleanly, but Luck probably shouldn’t have thrown this ball anyway. This actually happened multiple times last season, so Luck really should know that his receivers suck at comeback routes.
• And on this play, Luck forces a bad throw to a receiver covered by a corner in good underneath trail position, costing an INT.
• On this play Luck throws an interception in part because Dwayne Allen falls over during the route, but Allen fell before Luck started to throw the ball.
If there's an area Luck could improve on, it's his decisionmaking--he still could serve to be a bit more cautious, and sometimes will pull the trigger too late for a successful completion. But he's made huge strides in this area, and you could comfortably call his decision-making above average now.
Luck is a very cerebral quarterback, quick to read defenses both before and after the snap. In this play, Luck sees the Broncos in Cover 2 with six potential pass rushers, so he lifts his leg to fake the signal for the snap. This baits the safety into showing blitz, and Luck immediately know the Broncos are running a cover-1 blitz. After the snap, Luck knows his best bet are the hi-lo in-breaking routes, and he hits Dwayne Allen for the first down as soon as Allen breaks, threading the needle through the pass rush.
On this play the Packers are running cover-2-man. Luck, reading the defense and trying to buy his receivers some space, pump fakes to the tight end in the middle of the field, and everyone is fooled. SS Morgan Burnett breaks in, and CB Quinten Rollins falls over (even the cameraman is fooled), leaving Dorsett wide open.
In this play, Luck reads the single-high safety pre-snap and progresses through all his receivers in just a few seconds. It’s a simple thing, but most quarterbacks can’t diagnose defenses and go through all their receivers this quickly.
Here Luck quickly cycles through all five of his receivers across the entire field, and finding no one open, patiently waits until Bray beats his man. Again, it’s nothing too flashy, but most quarterbacks can’t make full-field reads this quickly.
On this play, the Packers initially show cover-2 , but as Luck gets set, they bring a safety into the box showing blitz. Luck recognizes this and changes the protection—he re-mikes to the right ILB and moves the RB to his right. The protection scheme is a perfect counter to the Packers’ blitz, and since Luck knows the Packers are in cover-3 and not cover-2, he knows the deep in-breaking route will be open. And it is, leading to a big 20-yard pickup.
On this play, the Raiders are showing Cover-1. Luck puts Frank Gore in motion to the slot, and he takes the defender with him, signaling the defense is likely cover-1 man. Accordingly, Luck knows before the snap even starts that Erik Swoope on the outside running a sluggo route should be the winning route—and it is. Luck hits him in stride for 45 yards.
Andrew Luck has arm talent reminiscent of Rodgers and pocket presence reminiscent of Brady. He sees the field like Rivers and has the athleticism of a guy like Mariota. His biggest weakness is his decisionmaking, and even there he's improving and already above average.
In short, he's good.
Submitted April 10, 2017 at 11:36AM by WhirledWorld
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