Who Won Luck vs. RGIII Preseason Showdown?
Both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III looked fantastic on Saturday night, but Luck outplayed his counterpart in preseason Week 3 and showed why he's one of the most polished rookie passers this league has ever seen.
As Luck and Griffin faced off for the first of what football fans hope will be many times, the two rookies did not disappoint. People were (foolishly) hyping this up as some sort of a preseason Super Bowl. In fact, Jim Sorgi called it just that on the Indianapolis Colts telecast, and while that may have been overboard, the play of Luck and Griffin was worth the price of admission.
The game itself, of course, meant absolutely nothing. This is still the preseason and this is still meaningless football. However, for two fanbases reaching out for any signs of hope, these two young phenoms are delivering in a big way—even if preseason wins/losses don't matter.
The Washington Redskins won 30-17, but will not be celebrating that fact any more than they would celebrate following a good practice. The Colts coaches, as well, won't be losing any sleep and will immediately turn their sights toward cutting down the roster before next week's game.
Stats, too, don't really matter in the preseason. As teams try out different combinations and test drive plays that might never be used, preseason stats are as meaningless as stats can be. That said, if you're looking to plunge the depths for some meaning, the two quarterbacks were just about even:
The only two discernible differences are in total attempts and in yards per attempt.
Even though he's a rookie, it looks as if the Colts trust Luck to come out throwing. Of course, that could also be a byproduct of a lackluster run game, and the Redskins were more than happy to hand off over-and-over to Alfred Morris who accrued over 100 yards on the ground.
Luck's yards per attempt has been excellent this preseason, and if that continues into the regular season, the Colts will win more games than their critics believe.
Griffin missed on some longer passes, which would have seriously boosted this stat in his favor. In Mike Shanahan's offense, occasional deep shots come with the territory. Those deep shots are meant to loosen up the defense for the run game, and while it'd be great to hit them, it's an admittedly high-risk/high-reward strategy.
So, since preseason wins and stats don't mean anything, let's breakdown the tape. Once one takes a closer look, it is clear that both quarterbacks looked great on Saturday. Luck just looked a little better.
Breaking Down Andrew Luck's Day
Luck's greatest asset, in one word—albeit a made-up word—is "escapability."
On the above play, Luck eluded the rush in the first frame, stepping up and firing the ball down the field for a completion. The Redskins could not have put more pressure on Luck without actually sacking him, but Luck's awareness and quick release allowed him to still make the play.
Another extremely important facet of Luck's game is his patience. When other quarterbacks (especially rookies) would take off and try to make plays with their legs, Luck stays put, always looking for a way to drive the ball down the field.
Above, Luck had already made a good play by squirming out of the pass rush and could have, easily, run for three to four yards. Instead, Luck kept his eyes forward and found his receiver, who was closer to the sticks than Luck's legs ever could have brought him.
On plays further down the field, Luck did miss on a long "free play," but later hit a tremendous over-the-top throw to T.Y. Hilton for a 31-yard touchdown.
It was a great job by Hilton, tracking the ball over his shoulder, but Luck's ability to drop in the ball, where only his receiver could catch it, is the real story here.
During his time at Stanford, Luck didn't always have receivers who could beat coverage deep. In Indianapolis, both Hilton and Reggie Wayne have good speed, and Luck will have plenty of chances to make those bucket throws.
Overall, Luck wasn't perfect, but he did the most he could do with the help he had around him. Facing constant pressure and with only lackluster skill position talent, Luck showed poise beyond his years as he moved the ball efficiently down the field and took advantage of big plays when they were there.
Breaking Down Robert Griffin III's Day
Griffin's issues on deep passes have already been mentioned, so let's start there.
Both of these passes were deep shots—an integral part of Shanahan's passing attack. Even though these were incompletions, they still served a purpose. Keeping the defense honest against the run is important to the zone rushing attack, and Shanahan is OK with those passes being incomplete.
That doesn't mean, however, that Shanahan and Griffin wouldn't be a lot happier had they been completed.
We've seen this out of Griffin before, while he was at Baylor. In a college offense, against college defenses, it is easy to throw to a spot and let your receiver go up and get it. In fact, against most college cornerbacks, it's probably preferable rather than running true timing routes.
Many, many times that strategy paid off for Griffin at Baylor, and it shouldn't, necessarily, be considered any sort of a negative as he acclimates to the pros. Brett Favre made a career out of hanging a ball up in the air and letting Sterling Sharpe or Antonio Freeman go get it. It can be done, even if it isn't ideal.
On plays like this, Griffin isn't aiming at anything in particular, he's dropping back and uncorking his ridiculously strong arm. That's OK, because those passes will likely start dropping. It's just an area of his game that, as a rookie, needs refinement.
Other than that, Griffin had a stellar afternoon.
Here, Griffin eludes pressure by dropping back further than he had originally set up. For many quarterbacks, the play would break down at this point, but Griffin's mobility and arm strength allowed him to complete a strike down the field.
Most rookies would've taken a sack on that play, and many experienced quarterbacks would've scrambled just to throw it away. Griffin's elite physical tools allow him to make plays others can only dream about on Madden.
One of the best throws of the afternoon was on Griffin's touchdown to Santana Moss.
Too often, arm strength is measured on long throws when touch and accuracy are a bigger part of the equation. Here, on this out route, Griffin showcased his cannon. On the run, it is easy for a throw like this to flutter and hang in the air, but Griffin drove the ball in front of Moss and gave him an easy ball to catch.
It's not a throw that will make "top plays," but it's a very important throw for the Shanahan offense. The more Griffin is able to move the pocket and keep defenses from pinning their ears back, the easier life will be for the Redskins as they continue to build around their star rookie.
For Griffin, as with Luck, the story is just beginning. These two rookie superstars have extremely bright futures ahead of them. If tonight is any indication, the present looks fantastic as well.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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