The Indianapolis Colts (1-1) fell to the Miami Dolphins (2-0) on Sunday by a score of 24-20 despite quarterback Andrew Luck throwing for 321 yards. Now, with a nail-biting victory over the Oakland Raiders in Week 1 followed by this loss on Sunday, a question arises.
Are the Colts asking too much of Luck?
Yes, Luck has some large shoes to fill after being taken with the first overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft to fill the void left by future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. But, it seems that Luck's inexperience seems to get lost among his hype.
It is easy to forget that Luck is only a second-year quarterback in the NFL—he constantly maintains a veteran-like presence on and off the field. His poise when commanding his teammates or speaking with the media never seems to waver.
Still, Luck is only 24 years old.
No matter the talent level of a young quarterback, a second NFL season still comes with an enormous learning curve according to a statement made by former general manager Bill Polian during an interview with ESPN:
Most quarterbacks, if they're going to get derailed, you'll see that happen around year two or three of their careers. That's when they find out if they can go from being players who transcend the college level with their ability to players who can operate the game at the professional level.
Obviously, the thought of Luck's career being derailed in his second year is not even a topic of discussion. However, the comment made by Polian clearly emphasizes the amount of growing a young quarterback—even one as talented as Luck—must do at this stage in his career.
Looking over the rookie quarterbacks who started all 16 games over the past two seasons, Luck has the most passing attempts of the group by a long shot.
The Colts did make the playoffs despite the amount of attempts by Luck, but so did Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals, Robert Griffin and the Washington Redskins and Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. Clearly, throwing the ball over 39 times per game—Luck's average—may not be the best method going forward.
Why? Because running a one-dimensional offense with a second-year quarterback at the helm is also a predictable offense to game-plan against for defensive coordinators.
That clearly showed against the Dolphins on Sunday.
The Colts did not show a balanced offense, which allowed the Dolphins' dangerous defensive line to pressure Luck early and often. They sacked Luck three times, pressured him six times and hurried him constantly throughout the contest.
Due to this pressure, not only is Luck being asked to throw often, he is finding himself scrambling as well. For the second straight week, he had to make plays on the run to extend drives and keep his team in the game. This week, Luck rushed four times for 38 yards.
Sure, Luck is athletic and can get it done on the ground, but watching the future franchise quarterback on the run is never a comfortable feeling.
The pressure that Luck was under on Sunday was very evident at a crucial point in the game. Midway through the fourth quarter with the Colts trailing by four points, Luck had to step up in the pocket to avoid pressure by the defensive line. He made a quick decision and decided to heave the ball downfield to Reggie Wayne. The throw was forced and resulted in an interception by Brent Grimes.
At the end of the game, Luck spoke to USA Today about the Dolphins defense:
I guess I'm a little angry at myself. Again, credit to them, they put us in all these situations, but I feel like we are a better team than what we showed out there.
Of course Luck will blame himself in typical franchise quarterback fashion. However, what aspect was really to blame?
Attempting to establish a running game with greater urgency would balance the offense by keeping the defense honest. This will, in turn, give Luck more time to throw and progress through his reads.
The Dolphins came to Indianapolis with that theory in mind.
Ryan Tannehill was pressured by a very good Colts pass rush; however, the balance of the offense allowed the Dolphins to flourish despite the pressure. The Miami offense opened up the running game to counter the pass rush of the Colts that allowed Lamar Miller to average 4.9 yards per carry over the game. Also, Tannehill was not forced to throw in bad situations, which not only allowed him to pass for 319 yards—just two yards less than Luck—but also rack up a 107.4 passer rating.
Just how lopsided were each of these offenses on Sunday? The Dolphins passed 34 times and rushed 27—a 55-45 pass-to-rush ratio. The Colts, however, passed 43 times and rushed just 26—a ratio of 62-38. This type of unbalanced offense would be difficult enough for a six-year veteran to run, let alone a second-year player.
It is a well-known fact that Luck is a fantastic quarterback. The question here is not if he will be successful—he already is—but rather, how successful can he be?
The sky is the limit for Luck, but doing too much over the course of a game could limit his effectiveness. Balancing the offense and limiting Luck's passing attempts will only increase his ceiling as he continues to grow as a passer.
For Luck and the Colts, it must be quality over quantity.
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