AFC South All-22 Review: Arians' Offense Means High Risk, Reward for Andrew Luck

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistDecember 5, 2012

Arians loves what Luck is doing.
Arians loves what Luck is doing.Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Luck confounds the national media.

He has been undeniably brilliant for the Indianapolis Colts, but his performance in a number of important metrics has been suspect.

He leads the league in interceptions!

He is 32nd in completion percentage, just a tick ahead of Mark Sanchez and John Skelton!

He is 29th in passer rating, behind even Blaine Gabbert!

By now, it's clear that these kinds of stats are failing to capture what Luck is accomplishing on the field. After all, this is clearly not a case of a young rookie managing the game while his outstanding defense picks up win after win.

No, the Colts have one of the worst defenses in football and Matthew Stafford is the only player in the league to throw more often than Luck.

Interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians obviously doesn't care about Luck's completion percentage and seems comfortable allowing the rookie to make mistakes on interceptions downfield.

Arians has installed a vertical offense for Luck. His constant focus on hitting big plays has led to a suppressed rate of completed passes, but Luck now ranks third in the league in terms of yards per completed pass.

The side effects of Arians' philosophy are many. Aside from an increased turnover rate, it also exposes Luck to violence from opposing defenses. Indianapolis does not have a strong offensive, and though Luck's sack rate is reasonable (13th), he is absorbing a lot of hits.

Consider the following plays the Colts' 35-33 win over the Lions.

Luck threw an interception looking for LaVon Brazill deep down field.

Under pressure, Luck gets slightly tripped as he tries to step up in the pocket. At this moment he sees Brazill break open. He's about to run right past the safety and will be wide open for a touchdown.

Luck fails to reset his feet properly and underthrows the pass, leading to a critical turnover.

Pay attention, however, to where the other receivers are on the route. Everyone is at least 10 yards off the line, and the only other open man is Donnie Avery, who is cutting from the opposite side (left to right) 15 yards downfield.

The routes on this play guarantee that if Luck is going to throw, it's going to be a big play of some kind. His only option is a difficult throw. The interception is ultimately due to a mechanical issue on his part and could have easily resulted in a touchdown.

The question is if it's wise to put a rookie in a position where his only option is to be perfect? Luck makes a nice escape, a perfect read, but has to execute a throw on the run that's quite difficult.

Of course, the counter to that is that he hits Brazill later in the game in a similar situation for a long touchdown to spark the comeback.

Arians' offense put Luck in a position to fail on another interception intended for T.Y. Hilton.

On 3rd-and-10, Arians runs no one short of the first down. Luck gets a little pressure in his face and is forced to raise up slightly. He's trying to fit a near impossible throw into the zone to Hilton, but the mechanical breakdown due to pressure (sound familiar?) leads to a bad throw and an interception.

Instead of thinking in terms of four-down football and giving Luck a short receiver, Arians sends everyone flying up the field.

When people ask why Luck doesn't check down more often, this is the reason. On many plays, there's simply no one to check to.

Even when Arians does offer a check down, he seems to favor extremely late releases.

On this near-pick early in the game, Coby Fleener releases after chipping the end. However, by the time he turns for the pass, Luck is already feeling heat and well into his throwing motion. The outlet receiver, by design, releases so late in the pattern as to offer no help against a strong rush.

He tries to fit a ball into Avery in the zone, but fails to see the linebacker in the middle of the field. The ball is nearly picked off. Again, other than Fleener, note that there is no one within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage on this play.

Finally, whether it's Luck or Arians, the Colts offense is adverse to taking short plays. On this key incompletion, Luck eschews his outlet in favor of a difficult touch pass on the sideline to Hilton.

If he catches it, it's a first down and a 20-plus-yard gain.

Instead, his toe nicks the sideline resulting in an Indianapolis punt.

This is a choice by the Colts to be aggressive at all times. There's no denying that more short passes and completions would greatly prop up Luck's personal numbers, but it's hard to argue with the success of the offense.

Is Arians the right coordinator for Luck?

The Colts are taking the long view right now. They are asking their rookie star to do more than what can be reasonably expected.

In time, Luck's decision making under pressure will mature. People forget how many interceptions Peyton Manning threw from 1999 to 2002. His pick rate of 3.2 percent is right in line with where Manning was in 2001 and 2002. Manning didn't fully grasp taking what the defense gave him until 2005.

It took seven years and two MVP awards before Manning morphed into the best version of himself.

Arians is calling games and designing plays for the player that Luck will be, not the player that he is.

It's easy to forget that this run to the postseason by the Colts wasn't supposed to happen. It didn't fit in the plan.

Luck has the freedom to make bad reads and poor decisions because the Colts want him to learn what a bad read and a bad decision is. There are no training wheels on this offense, and from the looks of things, Luck doesn't really need them.

Luck does take some abuse, but the Colts are clearly trying to limit it by not rolling him out and by discouraging him from scrambling until the game is on the line. It's as if they are willing to roll the dice in the pocket, but don't want him exposed more than necessary.

In the meantime, he's going to get smacked around some. There's a reason they drafted the guy who stands 6'4" and 234 as opposed to the 6'2", 223 player.

He is still a rookie, and he's still going to make bonehead plays.

His coordinator frankly doesn't care.

To Arians, the rewards, both short- and long-term, far outweigh the risk.


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