I have a difficult time with Andrew Luck.
I hope you'll forgive me as I break the proverbial fourth-wall and speak to you directly for a moment. It's unprofessional, and I wouldn't normally impose, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and Luck has elicited a crisis for me personally.
1-10-IND 25 (1:07) (Shotgun) 12-A.Luck scrambles up the middle to IND 34 for 9 yards (90-N.Suh).
On this play, Luck actually bounces off a lineman and spins for additional yardage. It's easy to forget how big and fast he is until someone hits him.
Hilariously, Bruce Arians complained about this play after the game.
I didn’t like him taking off on first down. I thought we wasted too much time. At that point in time we’re playing the clock, not the Lions, and you don’t run and they end up a yard short or half a yard short but we can’t run for a first down at this point in time.
Ever since I began covering the AFC South professionally, I've worked hard to keep my personal feelings and rooting interests in check.
It's surprisingly easy, actually.
Most readers don't realize that when you cover something as a job, your point of view changes. I care far more about being right, being accurate and being entertaining and educational than I do advocating a partisan view point.
In many ways Manning's departure from Indianapolis made this a perfect time for me to transition. While it's true that I am very much a Colts fan, I felt no attachment to the players, coaches or front office after the great purge.
3-1-IND 34 (:52) (Shotgun) 12-A.Luck pass deep left to 87-R.Wayne to DET 40 for 26 yards (26-L.Delmas).
Luck has to place the ball just over the linebacker and in front of the safety nearly 30 yards downfield with the game on the line.
He drops it perfectly into Reggie Wayne's hands.
After the game, Wayne said,
We was on the sideline saying that man we need some big chunks. We need some big chunks. Somebody just make a play. I guess you’re never out of it until it’s all over and guys just kept pushing and pushing. It was ugly. It was terrible. But we find a way to win.
I approached Andrew Luck's arrival with a blank slate. Though I was (and always will be) a "Manning-guy", I had been writing for six months that the Colts would be justified to part ways with Manning and draft Luck. However, my personal preference was (and honestly still is) that they had kept Manning and dealt the pick for Luck.
When I first saw Luck up close in training camp, I was forced to recalibrate my expectations of who he was and what he could be. It was obvious from talking to him and watching him up close, that he was perhaps as close to a clone of Peyton Manning as you could get without forcing Archie and Olivia to continue procreating.
There are some out there that have taken my often breathless praise for Luck as a sign of some kind of ridiculous home town bias. In reality, I've been doing everything I can to suppress what I actually think about his play, because honestly, I feared people would write it off if I was honest.
After what happened in Detroit, however, the time for reserve has passed.
2-10-DET 40 (:37) (Shotgun) 12-A.Luck scrambles right end ran ob at DET 24 for 16 yards (21-J.Lacey).
At this point, one bad play ends the game, and as it had all day, the protection broke down for Luck.
He sprinted to his right, still looking to make a throw. When it wasn't there, he accelerated all the way inside the 30.
Arians said after the game:
I thought Andrew (Luck) was outstanding in the last drive especially overcoming some poor plays early in the game that we’ve still got to rectify on the road. But we found a way to win a big ball game on the road against a very quality opponent. Don’t care about the stats. The only stat that matters is No. 8 (wins). We’ve got a fighting bunch of guys and we’ve got a fighting coach at home.
My struggle is this...
As a historian, and that's how I primarily consider myself when it comes to the Colts, I want to place Luck in context as accurately as possible. The friend of the historian is time, but it's not on my side when trying to crystallize the meaning of Luck in today's rapid-fire world.
As a writer, I want to describe his play as accurately as possible. That's why I've mostly relied on stats to defend my position that his play is unparallelled, even in a season of incredible rookie performances by Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III. Because I respect stats, however, I don't get bent out of shape when others argue against Luck. There are lots of numbers to support the other players, and Luck's require a degree of nuance to understand.
As a fan, I marvel at Luck, but honestly, I would rather be watching Manning have another MVP season. If he were in Indianapolis, the team would be at least 8-4, probably 9-3 or 10-2.
2-10-DET 24 (:24) (Shotgun) 12-A.Luck pass short left to 83-D.Allen ran ob at DET 14 for 10 yards (21-J.Lacey).
Luck again avoids a hit, steps up and finds Dwayne Allen.
When the pass arrives, he's a yard short of the first down. He spins to the sidelines both getting out of bounds and getting the key first down that would give Indy four chances to win.
It was a heady play by two rookies. Wayne said,
It’s just young and don’t know no better. Don’t know any better, man. They just know to just keep playing, at the end of the game just see the way we fall out. That’s a credit just to the coaches. Just keeping the guys into it, keeping them to play towards the end and guys just go out there and keep fighting and fighting till it’s all over.
With all those competing, but not mutually exclusive, forces driving my analysis, I've decided it's time cut loose and tell you all what I really think, filter-free.
Andrew Luck is so ridiculously good there are times I'm honestly disturbed by it.
As he marched his team down the field to a victory that was all but impossible, Luck transformed into the Kwisatz Haderach of football.
Now, I've spent years railing about the inanity of "quarterback wins" and extolling the virtue of statistics. I'm not about to get heretical on you, but Luck is doing things that break all the conventional stats and models.
He's reaching this place where his play has become almost unquantifiable by normal measures. That's why traditionally reliable metrics like YPA, completion percentage and passer rating are meaningless when describing a 23-year-old who runs an advanced downfield offense and excels at two-minute drives.
To understand the value of Luck, you have two choices. First, you can rely on incomprehensible metrics that require an advanced degree to parse.
Make no mistake, the evidence IS there for Luck. What he does can be captured, but not in the conventional ways most talking heads are familiar with.
For once, however, stats aren't the best option. To understand what Luck is doing, you have to see him live.
4-10-DET 14 (:03) (Shotgun) 12-A.Luck pass short right to 11-D.Avery for 14 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
For a moment it looks like Luck will run for it, but he sees Donnie Avery at the last moment. Still behind the line, he flips to the veteran wideout, but doesn't stop running.
He actually sprints alongside of Avery, looking for someone to block. Avery scores, and Luck runs over and picks up Wayne from behind before rushing to join a rag of Colts.
On the last-ditch play, Luck found his fifth option. Arians described it like this:
Yeah, he was No. 5. We had basically spread everybody across the back of the end zone and ran Donnie (Avery) across the field as an outlet. I was hoping he’d catch it a little closer to the goal line. But we knew they’d sink everybody back in. And I actually thought the game was over on Reggie’s incompletion. It was a great play by Andrew getting out of there, scanning the field. They were, all the receivers going left and Donnie was coming back right.
Watching him on television simply isn't good enough.
When you watch the Colts offense live and in person, you see what the replays rarely show.
You see how rarely Luck has wide open receivers.
You see how everyone is 15-20 yards downfield.
You see how much Luck moves in the pocket on every throw because the line is falling apart.
You see how quickly he processes information.
I want to laugh when people get all serious and grave about Luck's interceptions. He's throwing the ball 50-60 times a game in a purely vertical offense with a bunch of rookies and a crappy line.
You expect rookies to throw picks. You expect rookies to make bad reads. You expect rookies to have unrealistic expectations of their own ability to make a stick throw.
You don't expect rookies do to any of the other things that Luck does.
Counterfeit experts spend all their time studying real bills. They never bother to look at fakes.
I've spent the last 12 years dissecting the play of Peyton Manning. I know the real thing when I see it. You can't fool someone who's seen the genuine article.
Luck is actually better than the hype. I still get the sense like the numbers are getting in the way of people recognizing exactly how incredible he's playing. You'll still hear the occasional tongue-wagger spout nonsense about how good the Indianapolis defense is, or how some other quarterback doesn't have the weapons Luck has.
I can say with the utmost confidence that Andrew Luck is right now one of the 10 best quarterbacks in football, and within a few years, he's going to be the best quarterback in football. He's still figuring it out, but you can see it happen for him on the fly.
What Luck can be is the highest expression of this age of quarterback play. He will eventually have a roster around him that is competitive, and when that happens, the Colts could well embark on another decade-long run of winning.
What is the meaning of Andrew Luck?
Quotes courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts via press release.