The Colts narrowly edged out the Oakland Raiders yesterday by a score of 21-17 (dang, my prediction was close!).
The defense struggled mightily with the containment of Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor as he gashed the Colts for 104 yards on eleven rushes. The defensive unit did, however, come through in the clutch with a game-ending interception by safety Antoine Bethea. However, it was the poise and savvy of the Colts’ own young quarterback that truly lifted this team to its first W of the season as Andrew Luck picked up just where he left off at the end of the regular season last year.
As he did on multiple occasions last season, the second-year quarterback showed that his ability and football intelligence are already far beyond his years. On the first two offensive drives of the game, which ran 10 plays, 89 yards and 8 plays, 69 yards respectively, Luck looked like a ten-year veteran on the field as he methodically led the Colts down the field to a two touchdown lead. From last year, his accuracy has only improved, his pocket presence is as stellar as ever, he has shown improvement in his decision-making process, and, oh yeah, by-the-by, he led the team on an eighth game-winning drive; a record among quarterbacks in the last seventeen regular season games. This guy has the makings to become something truly special.
With Pep Hamilton’s new “no-coast offense” we were all expecting that we would see a shift from the deep attempts and downfield attacks that we saw with Bruce Arians last year to a much more conservative attack. Many of Luck’s critics from last year harped on the fact that his completion percentage was somewhat low (54.1%) and that his interception count was too high (18). These numbers, however, stemmed from the type of offense that he was a part of with Arians. The expectation this year was that we would see a lot more of a ground-and-pound attack with Luck attempting more short and intermediate throws (which would, in turn, improve his accuracy and hopefully minimize his turnovers). Luck did not disappoint in the opener. He started the game 11-11 with 127 yards and no interceptions. He ended the game with only five incompletions: three were on deep attempts (much like last year) one was batted down, and the other was a poor throw. This “no-coast offense” seems to be Luck-friendly and we can only hope to see these kinds of numbers increase throughout the season.
Last year as a rookie, Luck showed a pocket presence that we don’t usually see in a quarterback at that age. He can feel when the pressure is coming and from where the pressure is attacking. He gracefully steps up in the pocket and delivers strikes in a Manning or Brady-esque fashion. And once again, he picked up where he left off last year. The offensive line performed rather poorly yesterday, resulting in Luck facing a mighty load of pressure. Although he was sacked four times, Luck was still able to feel the pressure and deal with it in many different ways. He was able to step up in the face of pressure and deliver a strike to Dwayne Allen for a twenty-yard touchdown, all while being planted into the ground by an Oakland pass rusher. He showed growth in his ability to make good decisions and not force something that wasn’t there. Once, he attempted a short shovel pass to avoid a sack; while he also saw a few times that taking the sack was the least objectionable outcome. Luck was also able to evade pressure on multiple occasions and scramble for positive yards and even a ho-hum game-winning touchdown, proving just how athletic he truly is. In his less-than two years with the team, I have always been impressed with Luck’s presence in the pocket and only expect greater things to come from our young star.
Now, let’s go a little deeper into this record setting eighth game-winning drive of Mr. Luck’s. The Colts had just turned the ball over on downs and subsequently allowed Pryor to march his Raiders down the field to take a 17-14 lead with 11:09 left in the fourth quarter. Luck was ready to answer the call starting on his own twenty yard line. After a screen pass to Vick Ballard went for negative five yards and Ballard gained seven yards back on the ground, Luck delivered a twelve-yard strike to T.Y. Hilton on third and eight for a first down. Ballard then gained three yards up the middle, the defense incurred a neutral zone infraction for five additional yards, and Luck attempted a deep ball to Hilton that fell incomplete on a questionable no call. On the second third down of the drive, Luck found Reggie Wayne on a slant route for nine more yards and another first down.
After another deep incompletion to Hilton and a nine yard completion to Darrius Heyward-Bey, the defense suffered another penalty, this one a personal foul for a hit on a defenseless receiver (the hit was on DHB on the nine-yard completion). On first down, Ballard gained three yards up the middle and Luck hit Hilton for four yards on second down. Then Luck kicked in his magic. On third and three, Luck watched his pocket collapse. He saw that the defense was in man coverage so most of the defender’s backs were turned away from him. He saw a lane the size of the Panama Canal open up before him so he took off. With his immense athletic ability and his great vision of the field, Luck wound his way through the defense for a nineteen yard touchdown that ended up sealing the game for the Colts. The drive lasted eleven plays and eighty yards and took almost six minutes off the clock. Luck’s poise and grace under pressure and his leadership ability when the game is on the line (and when it’s not) has shown itself on multiple occasions in the past seventeen (regular season) games, and we as fans are obviously extremely glad to see it. It is a great tool to have in his arsenal, but the fans would also enjoy seeing him not having to utilize it so often. But it is a skill that few quarterbacks have, and we are extremely grateful that our quarterback does.
I know that I probably sound like a ridiculous homer right now, but I don’t really care. This man has at his disposal, the qualities that it usually takes a great quarterback years and years to cultivate. The Colts have to be one of the luckiest (no pun intended, I swear) franchises in the history of the league to have transitioned from a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer to a young quarterback that already shows glimpses of absolute greatness. Andrew Luck is the real deal, folks. Get used to it.