Best and Worst of Andrew Luck's 2012 Preseason: Week 1
Andrew Luck's journey thus far has been relatively good. He's certainly looked less like a rookie and more like a man ready to lead this new look Indianapolis Colts offense. From a solid understanding of the playbook to his desire to learn from veterans, Luck has shown tremendous maturity during his first NFL camp. After his performance in his first NFL preseason game, pundits are bound to start singing his praises.
His time hasn't been without its troubles however and his frustration is apparent. Let's take a look at the ups and downs after his first preseason game.
GOOD: Andrew Luck's First Win
In 1998 Peyton Manning completed his first NFL preseason pass to Marvin Harrison who promptly took it to the house. Andrew Luck started his career in similar fashion by completing a short screen to Donald Brown who provided the rest of the fireworks.
The rest of the day went pretty much the same way: Luck completed 10 of 16 for 188 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was an eye-popping 142.7 on the day. That's not too shabby for a kid replacing a man many believe to be the best quarterback to ever play the game.
Perhaps the media and fans overreacted to his performance, but after the first week he threw for more yards than all but one other QB, was plus-two in turnover ratio and clearly outplayed Robert Griffin III.
BAD: Luck's Amazing Performance Was Against One of the NFL's Worst Teams
Andrew Luck has had it easy thus far. This week he feasted upon a St. Louis Rams team that is clearly lacking enough playmakers at critical positions. It is quite possible that Jeff Fisher has a much harder task in front of him than Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. The Rams are certainly in the running for next year's first overall pick.
It won't get easier. Next week Luck will face the Pittsburgh Steelers who will provide a much greater challenge than the Rams. Getting a better read on this rookie may be possible after he faces Dick LeBeau's zone blitzing scheme.
GOOD: Luck Doesn't Get Sacked in First Outing
Andrew Luck showed remarkable athletic ability getting outside of the pocket when necessary and made pretty good decisions when he needed to throw it away. With a quick release and good decision-making, he did more to keep his own jersey clean than the offensive line did.
His most impressive play wasn't even a completed pass. He took a heavy rush up the middle, spun out, bought time with his legs and managed to throw the ball away. It was the kind of veteran play that it often takes quarterbacks years to learn.
Despite a constant pass rush against a substandard line, Luck did not take a sack, frequently using his feet to avoid pressure. Despite several dropped passes and forced throwaways, Luck still managed to hit 10 of 16 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
As Nate notes, Luck's ability to feel the pressure is a veteran skill that will certainly serve the team well behind a porous offensive line.
BAD: Colts Offensive Line Shaky in Pass Protection
Andrew Luck stayed upright throughout his debut as we mentioned, but the Colts offensive line looked anything but stable for most of the game. Sloppy offensive line play as noted by Colts Authority's Kyle Rodriguez doomed one series early for Luck despite his nine-yard scramble on third down.
While the shaky performance may be a sobering reality to face for many Colts fans, they can also take comfort in knowing that it couldn't be much worse than the 2011 team. According to Advanced NFL Stats, last year's offensive line was 23rd overall in win percentage added (WPA), coming in at -0.24. In concrete terms a negative offensive line WPA essentially means bad things happened along the offensive line which decreased the likelihood of winning.
GOOD: Luck Has Support from the Run Game
Asking any rookie, even one as prepared as Andrew Luck, to carry a team on his arm is a dangerous task. Only one true rookie has lead an NFL team to an improvement of eight wins or more—Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 lead the Steelers to a nine-game turnaround. In 1999 Kurt Warner also performed the feat in his first NFL year, but he was hardly a rookie at age 28 having made his rounds in both the AFL and NFL Europe. History simply says that in order for Luck to lead this team to a turnaround he's going to need a great deal of help.
Against the Rams he got some help from an unexpected source: the running game. Brian Goldsmith notes the team averaged 3.6 yards per carry for 116 yards. We all know Chuck Pagano wants to run, but it's hardly the ground-and-pound offense he claimed to love. Rather it was something fans in Indianapolis haven't seen in a very long time: balance.
BAD: Andrew Luck's Next Test Is a Road Game
Andrew Luck started his NFL career in the comfy confines of Lucas Oil Stadium with more than 63,000 friends.
This week he'll enter Heinz Field, home of the NFL's most vociferous fans. Also, he'll get more snaps against Dick LeBeau's opportunistic defense. While he tells the Indianapolis Star it's close enough for his parents to drive to the game, it'll be no homecoming:
"It's the first road game and just not knowing what to expect," he said. "I'll pick some of the veterans' minds about that. Dealing with the crowd noise and silent counts, we'll see how that will go."
He's obviously faced the bright lights before at Stanford. He's balanced fame, overwhelming success in the NCAA and a heavy academic responsibility without blinking. Remaining poised against a fabled Steelers defense in their home stadium will be a task unlike any he's ever faced.
If he manages that feat then perhaps Colts fans will have a little justification for their exuberance after all.