Breaking Down Where Andrew Luck Must Improve Most After Loss to Bears
Despite the incredible hype around him, Andrew Luck didn't have the first game he would have liked.
Against a Chicago Bears team whose offense got most of the headlines and support this offseason, the Indianapolis Colts were largely unable to move the ball. Luck was under constant pressure and, at times, looked like he was just trying to get through the game with his limbs in tact.
It's easy to write off this performance as "not Luck's fault," or "his first game, of course he will get better," but it's also important to take a look at the specific areas where he must improve. As the first overall pick, the pressure has to be on Luck to succeed—regardless of the talent around him.
As much as Luck needs to make those around him better, no discussion of his performance is complete without a look at what he's dealing with in Indianapolis.
The Colts are in year one of a serious rebuild. The lackadaisical attitude of the Polians when it came to team building as well as the continued reliance on Tony Dungy's schemes long after he was gone left the Colts starved for a new direction.
New general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano look to provide that direction in 2012 and the years to come. To expect immediate successes, even with a stud QB like Luck, is reaching (at best). This roster needs time to be overhauled, and these coaches need time to ingrain their schemes into their players.
Running into an experienced, well-coached team like the Bears in Week 1 may have been the worst possible scenario for Luck and company.
Luck was only sacked twice in the loss, but that number doesn't truly tell the story of how much pressure he was under.
Look at the picture above.
That is off of a three-step drop, and that blue line is the line of scrimmage. Every player the Bears had rushed was in Luck's personal space, and the Colts offensive linemen were holding on for their dear lives.
Overall, Luck was hurried 12 times and hit three more (in addition to the sacks). That means, on a total of 66 offensive snaps, Luck had to deal with pressure 17 times. That works out to over 25 percent. Compare that to Jay Cutler (16.8 percent), and it begins to tell a truer story of their two performances.
It's also important to note that the Bears offensive line isn't considered, in any way, good. Mike Tice and Lovie Smith have spent the days after the game apologizing for and excusing their own poor line play, yet the Colts' was even worse.
Luck also had to deal with three drops—one from Coby Fleener and two from Donald Brown. While three drops isn't an inexcusable number, it is relevant that all three came from his supposed "security blankets."
Combined with the pressure, it's easy to understand how Luck felt (and, at times, looked) overwhelmed.
Andrew Luck Has to Stand Tall and Make Better Quick Decisions
Part of the arrangement of being a first overall pick is the understanding that one becomes a cornerstone player of that team. If a team is picking first overall, it likely doesn't have a solid running game, receiving corps, offensive line or defense.
However, as the first pick, the newest addition needs to be a force for change on that team and not become part of the problem.
For Andrew Luck, that means he has to rise above the excuses listed above and do what he can to help his team win games.
In both this image and the first screenshot above, Luck was clearly under pressure. In the first shot, Luck was falling away. Here, he attempts a jump pass to a clearly covered receiver that ends up careening off the defender's helmet.
In both plays, Luck could have been better.
Here, specifically, look at the first-down marker. It is clearer when you watch the replay, but Luck's best option was likely using his (vastly underrated) athleticism to attempt to run for the first down. Throwing an off-balanced ball at a defender is never advisable, and Luck should have been picked off.
It's not necessarily a question of fear. Some quarterbacks—think David Carr or more recently Blaine Gabbert—have issues with standing up (literally and figuratively) under pressure. The constant pressure has an almost psychological effect, and the quarterback begins to look shell-shocked as he looks to avoid the hits that are almost certainly coming.
Luck is not there, not now and likely not ever.
This is an issue of decision-making—a paralysis of thought. Luck can't seem to reconcile his innate ability to create plays with his arm and his natural ability to create plays with his legs. Either route would help the Colts win games, but doing neither or attempting to do both on every play is going to doom Luck and this offense.
Creating with one's legs isn't just running for first downs; this screenshot shows a clear mistake on Luck's part as the pressure collapses around him. Luck does well to stand tall, but the next step needs to be feeling the pocket close and finding a way out.
Here, Luck has a clear path, but he lets the pressure get to him rather than stepping up into a clear throwing lane. This is, essentially, someone with the mobility of Aaron Rodgers acting like a Drew Bledsoe-esque statue in the pocket.
The best analogy for this situation is one most of us learn as teenagers. When driving, the maxim is to "always have an escape plan." Don't put yourself in situations that could become quickly dangerous. This maxim manifests itself in practical advice to always maintain a safe distance and to avoid spending time in other drivers' blind spots.
This same maxim applies to quarterback play, as the players around Luck are just as unpredictable and potentially dangerous as our fellow drivers on the highway. In the same way we can't control how others act, Luck can't control the play of the 21 other people on the football field.
Luck must be better.
In time, Colts fans have every reason to believe he will be.
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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