Despite Matt Hasselbeck's Success, Andrew Luck Is Still the Indianapolis Starter

Kyle J. Rodriguez@@coltsauth_kyleCorrespondent IDecember 2, 2015

Nov 29, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (8) salutes the fans by raising his helmet as he runs off the field after the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis defeats Tampa Bay 25-12. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Few things get people more riled up in sports than backup quarterbacks. 

They're right up there with scrappy white running backs, firing coaches and cute kids at a press conference. 

There are plenty of narratives available with backup quarterbacks, whether it's calling for one to take the starter's job when he struggles, blasting the backup for struggling after coming in for an injury replacement, praising him after he comes in and leads the team to victory on a moment's notice or, usually, just not noticing him at all. 

Matt Hasselbeck has seen every narrative this season. It started with the vitriol, after he played terribly in the preseason, prompting media members to generally lose their heads about the fate of the Indianapolis Colts' second passer.

Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star wrote: "The Colts have a quarterback problem. No, not that quarterback. Not Andrew Luck. The problem is with the guy who would play if that quarterback—if Andrew Luck—gets hurt. Matt Hasselbeck is a problem."

Then came the ignore stage. Even when Andrew Luck struggled to start the season, there was no call for Hasselbeck to step onto the field. 

There was some panic when Luck went down with a rib injury after Week 3, especially after Hasselbeck struggled against a bad Jaguars defense, but that mostly subsided after the team pulled off a late comeback. Then Hasselbeck played well against the Texans the next week, and it was all elation. 

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Then Luck returned. Back to ignoring. Then he got hurt again, and the Colts pulled off two more wins with Hasselbeck. Praise became exponential, until we reached the point where people actually began to question whether or not Hasselbeck should replace Luck as the starter, at least for the rest of 2015. 

NFL Network @nflnetwork

Should the @Colts stick with @Hasselbeck or try their "luck" with Andrew when he returns? Tweet using #GoHasselbeck or #GoLuck

People just don't think clearly when it comes to backup quarterbacks. 

It doesn't matter if you've directly entertained the notion of Hasselbeck replacing Luck or just implied it with statistical and win-loss-record comparisons. It has to stop. 

"That's ludicrous," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said during Monday's news conference. "You gotta stay off Twitter."

Pagano added that Luck is the starter when healthy, though that prospect remains "week to week," according to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com.

To most, Pagano's comment is completely legitimate. Who would ever ask the question? But people are, and it's mind-numbing. 

Dave Dameshek, Ike Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, for example, all agreed on Dameshek's podcast Monday, with Dameshek providing the final word: "How can you argue when the team is undefeated with him (Hasselbeck)? It's an unreasonable argument."

David Carr said the same thing on NFL.com. Nate Burleson said the same thing on NFL.com, while his debate partner LaDainian Tomlinson said Luck's future contract is the only reason he'd put Luck over Hasselbeck, saying "Hasselbeck can do everything Andrew Luck can do."

ESPN got in on the fun too, with Skip Bayless taking the reins on the Matt Hasselbeck bandwagon.

This list could go on. The point is, there are real people making the argument that Hasselbeck should remain the Colts starter regardless of Luck's healing. 

This shouldn't be a thing. It should not be a conversation that has to be had. But it's going on, so we'll address the basic facets of the argument. 

1. Matt Hasselbeck is 4-0 as the starter. 

This is the biggest argument for Hasselbeck, but it's also the most flawed. 

Besides the fact that "quarterback wins" alone is a terrible way to measure quarterbacks, especially over small sample sizes, this argument completely ignores context. Bomani Jones of ESPN tweeted:

El Flaco @bomani_jones

only thing: huge difference between the teams hasselbeck beat and those luck lost to. https://t.co/rCB29qwYoG

With Andrew Luck at quarterback, the Colts lost to teams like undefeated (at the time) New England, undefeated Carolina and upstart Jets and Bills teams. They did have a bad home loss to New Orleans, but they also have a phenomenal win against a previously undefeated Denver Broncos team, a game in which Luck (under new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski) was very good. 

Hasselbeck's wins, meanwhile:

  • The Jaguars, at home
  • The Texans, who were in the midst of a 2-5 start
  • The Falcons, who were in the midst of a four-game losing streak
  • The Buccaneers, at home

Each of the Colts' opponents with Hasselbeck at quarterback have a negative DVOA for the season, per Football Outsiders, while five of Luck's opponents are currently in the top 11. George Bremer of the Herald Bulletin tweeted: 

George Bremer @gmbremer

Andrew Luck beat the best defense in football while playing the fourth quarter with a lacerated kidney. There is no QB controversy. #Colts

This doesn't even touch the fact that the Colts have been very lucky with Hasselbeck and not quite as much with Luck, ironically. The Colts are 3-0 in one-score games with Hasselbeck, needing Jacksonville to miss two potential game-winning field goals in Week 4 and a pick-six to tie the game in Week 11. With Luck this season, the Colts are 1-3 in one-score games, although those have often involved late, unlikely comeback attempts. 

The point remains, however. The Colts' winning with Hasselbeck has much more to do with context (and some well-executed coaching adjustments) and opponent than it does Hasselbeck swooping in to save the day. 

Hasselbeck was terrible in two games (Atlanta and Jacksonville) as well as in the first half against Tampa Bay. Playing great for the second half against Tampa Bay (owners of a bad secondary) is being confused with playing great for four games. 

2. Hasselbeck's lack of turnovers is allowing the defense to play better. 

This is also related to the last point that Hasselbeck's overall level of play has led to a team-wide renaissance. Unfortunately, it's another myth. 

The defense seems to be "playing better" because they've played bad offenses, plain and simple. Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Jacksonville and Houston are ranked 17th, 18th, 23rd and 24th in offensive DVOA this season, respectively.

The team got Tampa Bay and its rookie quarterback on the road, Atlanta with running back Devonta Freeman missing the vast majority of the game, Jacksonville on the road with its young quarterback having an awful day and Houston in the midst of a weird, mid-game, injury-related QB transition. 

To put it bluntly, the defense has been handed extremely advantageous matchups with Hasselbeck at the helm. It will be very interesting to see what the defense does against a loaded Pittsburgh team next week, at least if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can play. Josina Anderson of ESPN tweeted:

The argument would still be that the Colts' lack of offensive turnovers with Hasselbeck on the field has allowed the defense more rest, allowing them to play more effectively per play. But both pieces to that argument are invalid. 

The Colts have run more plays with Hasselbeck at quarterback, averaging 70.5 plays per game in those four contests compared to 66 plays per game with Luck at quarterback. They also haven't been more effective, averaging 1.05 percent DVOA with Hasselbeck at quarterback versus negative-0.3 percent DVOA with Luck at quarterback (negative is better for defensive DVOA), per Football Outsiders

Because DVOA accounts for opponent, you can see why the difference in points allowed per game doesn't tell the whole story. There is a wealth of context that has to be taken into account. 

3. Hasselbeck is more experienced and more willing to take what the defense gives him.

This one has some truth to it. 

Andrew Luck struggled for a large part of this year for myriad reasons, including the fact that he was rushing reads and misreading coverages. We haven't seen those issues from Hasselbeck, who has gotten the ball out of his hands more quickly and allowed his playmakers to make plays. 

But that also ignores a lot of Hasselbeck's flaws. 

The Colts tailored the offense specifically for Hasselbeck during his games, specifically aiming for quicker passes and, ultimately, a more limited offense. 

Hasselbeck struggles to drive the ball down the field, which has led to long periods under his play when the Colts have struggled to move the ball. Just look at the entire Jaguars game or the Falcons game, where Hasselbeck was limited to short passes for few yards after the catch. Defenses sit up on the running game and dare Hasselbeck to take advantage down the field. Nate Dunlevy of the Colts Authority tweeted:

Nate Dunlevy @NateDunlevy

Hot hand = legitimately bad in two of his four starts. Give me a break. https://t.co/vaMzHZflEo

Against Tampa Bay and its very vulnerable secondary, Hasselbeck was able to do that in the second half. Against better defenses, that isn't always the case. 

And Hasselbeck turns the ball over too. He threw two awful interceptions against Atlanta that should have lost the game for Indianapolis, but the defense saved the day with three interceptions of its own, including a pick-six. He should have thrown another against Tampa Bay, with two defenders in position to catch a third-down attempt to Dwayne Allen, but it was dropped. 

For his career, Hasselbeck actually has a higher interception percentage than Luck does. Sure, he does some things better than Luck, but overall the offense is much more limited with him at quarterback. Kevin Bowen of the Colts website tweeted Hasselbeck's thoughts:

Kevin Bowen @KBowen1070

Matt Hasselbeck asked tonight by @GreggDoyelStar on if fans should wonder about Colts starting QB when Luck returns https://t.co/50ZEcHCtre

There isn't any question as to who gives the Colts the best chance to win a Super Bowl, both now and in the future (if healthy). 

We haven't even gotten into the discussion over Luck's future in Indianapolis and how that would be affected by being benched midway through the season for a 40-year-old backup. But honestly, we don't need to. 

Luck is the franchise quarterback. There is no reason to bench the franchise for Matt Hasselbeck. That's it. End of story.

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