Andrew Luck and the Anatomy of a Game-Winning Drive

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Andrew Luck and the Anatomy of a Game-Winning Drive
(Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

He may only be in his second season in the NFL, but Andrew Luck is becoming the master of the game-winning drive.

The Indianapolis Colts are in the middle of their second year with the former Stanford quarterback, and it seems like there has never been a dull moment with Luck playing under center.  After going 2-14 in the 2011 season, the Colts have completely turned things around, going 17-8 since Luck was selected with the No. 1 overall pick.

He doesn't have the flashiest numbers or the most elite team around him, but Luck finds ways to lead the offense down the field and come up with incredible game-winning drives.

Of his 17 career wins, Luck has led a game-winning drive in 10 of them with seven fourth-quarter comebacks.  His seven game-winning drives in 2012 were tied for the second most in an NFL season (including playoffs), with only Jake Delhomme (2003) and Eli Manning (2011) coming up with more at eight each.  

I spoke with Scott Kacsmar, the man who has provided us with this great information on game-winning drives, from Football Outsiders about Luck's numbers for game-winning drives.  He told me that Luck is 10-5 in game-winning drive opportunities, which would be the highest winning percentage of any quarterback with at least 15 attempts.  Along with that, his 10 game-winning drives are the most of any QB in his first two seasons, reaching that mark it in just 25 games, faster than any QB in NFL history.

Josh Wilson from Stampede Blue has tracked Luck's production in those drives, and he provided a great table of his results so far on Twitter.

So, what does it take to pull off game-winning drives like Luck?  Let's find out.

 

Escapability

One of the most overused phrases in the NFL over the past two seasons has been "Andrew Luck is an underrated athlete."

It's time to stop that talk.  Everyone knows he can make plays on the ground.  He's run for 455 yards and eight touchdowns to start his career.  He finds ways to escape the pocket and run down the field, using his speed and strength to make plays.

While we can talk all about plays like this 19-yard rushing touchdown against the Oakland Raiders, I want to break down his ability to extend a passing play, which is, at least in my opinion, more important when the game is on the line.  

Let's start by taking a look at his first career game-winning drive, which came against the Minnesota Vikings, and the very first play from that drive.

Here, the Colts are using an "11" or "Posse" personnel grouping and are running a double slot formation out of the shotgun.  With Coby Fleener as a last resort, the rest of the receivers are running deep since there are only 31 seconds remaining in the game.  This means that Luck needs time in the pocket for the play to set up.

Much like this season, Luck doesn't get that kind of time.  The offensive line begins collapsing just moments after the snap, with Jared Allen starting to push the pocket. Everson Griffen has beaten his man and is heading straight for Luck.

Luck quickly decides to roll out to the left, and he does it so quickly that the pass rush has almost no time to react.

Having given Donnie Avery time to get open, Luck zips a perfect 20-yard pass to the speedy wide receiver.  The Colts end up kicking the game-winning field goal with just seconds remaining.

 

Looking Away From Target

Rookie quarterbacks tend to make the mistake of locking on to their intended target as soon as the ball is snapped, but Luck is no ordinary rookie quarterback.

Defensive backs tend to read the quarterback's eyes, and a truly talented QB can trick opponents by looking away from his intended receiver to get him open. Let's look at one of his more recent game-winning drives, which came in Week 5 against the Seattle Seahawks.

Game Rewind

On this play, the Colts are technically using "11" or "Posse" personnel once again, although the tight end is an additional offensive tackle.  They're running a trips-right bunch formation with T.Y. Hilton on the inside, Reggie Wayne in the middle and Darrius Heyward-Bey on the outside.  Take note of Hilton's route, as he's running what will essentially be a fake bubble screen.

Game Rewind

Notice that as soon as Luck gets the ball, he's completely focused on looking at the bubble screen.  He's turned his head completely away from Wayne and DHB, really selling the fake screen.

Game Rewind

The play works, as three defensive backs on a team that probably has the best secondary in the NFL bite on the screen, letting Wayne and Heyward-Bey get wide open.

Game Rewind

Sure, it was a bit unclear who Luck was throwing to on this one, but notice that there are four defensive backs left standing there.  Donald Brown scored on the next play to give the Colts a lead they never relinquished.

 

Ball Placement

One of the common knocks on Luck this season has been that on occasion he misses routine throws.  When it comes to crucial late-game plays, however, Luck is right on the money.

Andrew Luck Career Stats vs. Attempted GWDs
Comp % Yds TD INT RAT
Career 55.7 6,572 37 13 80.1
Attempted GWDs 67.6 563 5 0 112.6

GWD=Game-Winning Drive

According to Josh Wilson's table referenced earlier, Luck completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 563 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions during attempted game-winning drives, giving him a 112.6 passer rating during those situations.

I won't drill down too much on this final section on game film, but I thought it would be appropriate to bring up Luck's most memorable game-winning drive, which came against the Detroit Lions last season.  Everyone tends to remember the final play with Luck chasing Avery into the end zone, but the best throw of the drive came on a 26-yard pass to Wayne.

Game Rewind

Wayne runs a simple seam on here, and he's trying to find an opening in between the two levels of coverage. Luck has an incredibly small window to work with and little time to throw.

Game Rewind
Game Rewind

Luck lets the ball go the instant that Wayne gets behind his defender, and the future Hall of Famer reels it in just before Louis Delmas can make a play on it.

When it comes to making big plays late in the game, there isn't a more reliable quarterback in the NFL than Luck.  It may only be his second season, but he has yet to back down in a tight situation, coming through time after time.

Move over, Jim Harbaugh.  There's a new "Captain Comeback" in town.

 

All statistics regarding game-winning drives were provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com.  Other statistics were provided by Josh Wilson from Stampede Blue, Scott Kacsmar from Football Outsiders and Tyler Brooke.  

Follow Tyler on Twitter @TylerDBrooke

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