Luck dealt with pass rushers all season, and it showed in his form.
To the more dedicated viewer, one who watched each Colts game this season, Luck’s rookie year was brilliant, carrying a young, thin team to a playoff spot when their talent (or lack thereof) said they had no business there. Despite having a below-average and young receiving group, one of the worst offensive lines in the league and a defense that finished the season 31st in DVOA, Luck succeeded.
But to say all that without also being honest about his faults is denying the truth: Andrew Luck does have room to improve. So where are those areas? I’ve narrowed it down to three key areas that Luck can focus in on in order to most efficiently improve his game.
Accuracy wasn’t Luck’s strongest trait during the 2012 season. One way we see this is through his completion percentage, which was a sub-par 54.1 percent for the season. Of course, a large reason why it was so low was the Colts’ vertical offense, which rarely offered short targets for Luck, and forced him to throw more deep passes than anybody in the league (101 attempts of 20 yards or more). Deeper passes have a lower completion rate, so it makes sense that his completion percentage would dip.
That being said, Luck still went through stretches of inaccuracy this season, specifically when it comes to sailing passes and overthrowing receivers.
Why did Luck tend to overthrow receivers? The simple answer is that he tended to hurry passes (certainly understandable with the Colts’ weak offensive line).
Coming out of college, some people questioned Luck’s arm strength as his only “flaw.” Having watched every snap of Luck’s professional career at least twice, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that there is nothing wrong with Luck’s arm strength.
The problem is that Luck actually relies on his arm too much at times, and doesn’t power the throws with his legs. Sometimes this is because he’s being hit, others it’s simply because he’s hurrying his throw.
Without stepping fully into the throw, Luck can sail passes over his receivers' heads, lofting them high instead of driving them down the field. Fortunately, this should be pretty easily corrected, and is something that Luck likely will be working on all season. It will certainly help when he gets an offensive line he can trust, but he does have some control there.
Zeroing in on receivers
Another problem that Luck had throughout the season was zeroing in on receivers, especially Reggie Wayne. Granted, Luck did this more near the beginning of the season and definitely improved as the season went on. In fact, in the Colts’ divisional playoff game, Phil Simms made a comment about noticing that Luck was looking off the safeties.
Well, Simms was right that Luck did start to do that much more toward the end of the season, but it’s still something that he can fall into, and was one reason why Luck ended with so many interceptions.
Here’s one example from the Week 5 matchup against Green Bay.
After taking a sack on second down, Luck faced a 3rd-and-12. He has Reggie Wayne in the slot left, LaVon Brazill wide left, T.Y. Hilton in the slot right and Donnie Avery wide left. As you can see, Luck looks left toward Wayne just after releasing the snap, and his gaze never wavers.
Luck glances at Brazill for a half-second (on the same side of the field) and then fires this ball into a crowd, and it’s nearly picked off. Had he looked to the other side, he may have noticed T.Y. Hilton streaking down the seam and getting a step on the safety.
It’s an area to improve, and one that did throughout the season. It’s an area that most rookies struggle with, but get better as they get older. I expect Luck will be the same.
While Luck had an uncanny knack for avoiding sacks, his prowess was more Roethlisberger-like than Manning-like.
What do I mean by that? Ben Roethlisberger uses his size, athleticism, and mobility to avoid sacks when defenders get to him. Peyton Manning, on the other hand, has a pocket presence that knows exactly where every defender is, and when they'll get to him. He's been one of the best in NFL history at getting rid of the ball before the defender gets to him.
As for Luck, he falls much more into the Roethlisberger category. He had numerous miraculous escapes, but his pocket awareness was nowhere near Manning's level. This led to several problems.
First, it led to Luck throwing a lot of passes while being hit, in fact, he led the league in throws while being hit, according to Pro Football Focus. Sometimes, this was a good thing, as Luck got rid of the ball instead of being sacked (or even got a completion out of it, like the key third-down play against Miami). Other times, Luck's potential completions turned into interceptions.
One example of this was a play in the Wild Card Game against Baltimore. Luck was pressured, escaped the pocket and then got rid of the ball while being brought down. Unfortunately, he didn't get enough on the ball, and it fell short of the line of scrimmage, earning an intentional grounding penalty.
Second, Luck can sometimes be loose with his throwing arm while in the pocket, not aware that a defensive lineman is close enough to swat the ball away. This is the biggest reason why Luck wassixth in the league (for QBs) in fumbles. Luck didn't fumble while running, but fumbled 10 times inside the pocket, fortunately only losing two.
A classic example of this was also in the Wild Card game against Baltimore. In the first quarter, after the Colts recovered a Ray Rice fumble, the Colts were moving the ball well, and got into Baltimore territory. But, on 3rd-and-5 on the Baltimore 31, Luck didn't realize that Paul Kruger was as close as he was, and got the ball knocked out of his hand. The Ravens recovered, and the Colts never would get into the end zone that day.
For each of these things, getting Luck more help will definitely help solve some of the problem. More time behind the offensive line would help with his stepping into throws, and obviously would help with the fumbling issues. Better weapons at wide receiver would allow him to move his gaze off of Reggie Wayne, who was the only dependable weapon at times in 2012.
But make no mistake about it, Luck can and will do things himself to improve. And that thought is not a welcome one for the rest of the league.