RG Who? Record-Breaking Andrew Luck Steals Back Headlines, ROY Race Lead

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistNovember 5, 2012

Luck is on the prowl for wins, but may find hardware instead.
Luck is on the prowl for wins, but may find hardware instead.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

In the span of three-and-a-half remarkable hours, Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts swooped in to overtake Robert Griffin III as the media darling of the hour and the de facto leader in the race for rookie of the year.

The case for Luck has been growing weekly, and many writers took note of the fact that his conventional metrics lagged far behind what the advanced stats and the eyeball test said about his play.

On Sunday, the old-school stats came back with a vengeance for Luck.

By now, everyone knows he set the single-game rookie passing record with 433 yards. As impressive as that was, however, the performance wasn't simple a case of stat padding.

The Colts needed every single one of those yards to hold off the Miami Dolphins in a 23-20 thriller.

The effect of his massive 30-for-48, 433 yard, two-touchdown, zero-interception performance on his traditional stats was as impressive as its effect on his Rookie of the Year campaign.

The big yardage vaulted Luck all the way to third in the NFL in total passing yards (ironically tying him with Peyton Manning). His yards per attempt edged up to 7.2. His passer rating is now pushing 80.

The improvement in traditional numbers makes it easy for mainstream media members to grasp just how good he's been. Coupled with a high-profile win and a gaudy 5-3 record, it's a perfect storm for the gum waggers.

Luck has the advantage of being a "new" topic. After weeks of talking about RGIII's spectacular play, talking heads are eager for a change of pace.

No one's saying the media has a short attention span, but—oh hey! Is that Tebow topless?

The attention Luck is now receiving is well-earned. While Griffin has been terrific, the fact is that from Week 2 on, the gap between Luck and Griffin tightened.

In Week 1, Griffin played the worst pass defense in football. Luck played the best. Obviously, Griffin looked incredible, while Luck understandably struggled. It created a false impression of where the two men stood in relation to one another.

Griffin's edge in the traditional rate stats still holds even with the first week factored out, but Luck has done so much more by volume, it's difficult to compare their impact.

For instance, in one fewer game, he has 600 more passing yards and three more touchdowns with only two more interceptions from Week 2 on.

The big numbers alone help, but dramatic victories the last two weeks have helped Luck's case.

Of course the most simple metric of all, wins, is exactly the kind of bright-shiny bauble the media loves. Team performance far too often attributed to quarterbacks, and it should make anyone uncomfortable to cite quarterback wins under any circumstances.

In this case, what the win total for the Colts reflects is just how special the play of Luck has been. Indianapolis has limited talent, and it's been Luck's ability to generate first downs and big plays at the end of halves and games that have lifted them to several improbable victories.

Luck isn't great because the Colts have five wins. The Colts have five wins because Luck has been great. The difference is subtle but important.

As the season progresses, the Colts may not be able to sustain victories, but that won't mean Luck has regressed. It may just mean that no team can keep winning if it only forces three turnovers in eight games.

Ultimately, Luck's recent surge in media notoriety, like his surge in traditional metrics, should be seen as a major victory for stats like DVOA and QBR, which acted like a canary in the mine on his early play.

Both stats indicated there was something unique about his ability that was not being captured by completion percentage, passer rating and the like. The well-informed weren't surprised by his outburst against the Dolphins, even if they were still awed by it.

Of course, the traditionalist stat-hater can claim credit as well. Everyone who watched Luck up close has been saying how special he was, though some dismissed it all as hero-worship or myth-making.

The eye test was definitive. The kid was special no matter what his completion percentage said.

Now that ESPN is sufficiently bored with RGIII and Tebow, they are finally getting around to realizing that while Luck is constantly improving, he's been great almost from the go.

This week, Luck will be the center of attention for a nationally-televised game Thursday night in Jacksonville. Another win will only increase the hype and attention thrust upon him.

Now the talk is Rookie of the Year, but were the Colts to make the playoffs, it would be a shock if he didn't get MVP votes.

As RGIII can attest, the media is fickle at best. The attention doesn't always last.

For now, Luck is the hot topic de jour.

At least until Tebow takes his shirt off again.


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