Colts 2016 season rests on Andrew Luck’s development, health

Nov 8, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) throws a pass against the Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 8, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) throws a pass against the Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indianapolis Colts haven’t made too many moves this offseason, but the impending extension for Andrew Luck is the most important one they can make.

The Colts have holes all over their roster right now. They still need help along the offensive line, at pass rush, inside linebacker, and could use more depth at a few other spots. GM Ryan Grigson hasn’t done much in free agency to fill these holes (largely because the finances say they can’t) and are likely waiting until the draft to address those issues.

Even if the Colts manage to miraculously solve all of those problems it won’t matter one bit if their quarterback doesn’t improve his game and stay healthy in 2016.

This version of the Colts is almost laughably reliant on Andrew Luck being a brilliant QB. There are very few games where you can point to anyone other than Luck as the reason to why the Colts won. 2015 was a mess from the very beginning and the failings aren’t solely on Luck being injured or playing poorly.

Luck being healthy for all 16-games will produce better results than last season, this is a fact. But if the Colts want actually compete and be a real threat at winning a championship, Luck has to make a significant step in his development. His health and development are not mutually exclusive issues either.

Luck’s Health

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It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that Luck was playing hurt for all but one (or maybe one-and-a-half) games last season. He was laser sharp in training camp and a few of the preseason games and then in the season opener against Buffalo, Luck appeared to regress almost immediately.

There were protection issues all game long as the Colts started the season with a horrible line combination and were facing a very talented front seven from the Bills. There was a play on an interception return where Luck was very slow to get up. This could be the moment where he suffered his rib injury, which would explain his play over the next two games before a shoulder injury vs the Titans sidelined him for the next two games.

Luck has to stop trying to play hero for his mistakes. That means not trying to play middle linebacker and track down the player who just picked him off. Luck isn’t going to cause a fumble (only Pierre Garcon can do that, if it’s in the playoffs, and Ed Reed doesn’t see the uppercut coming). The best thing Luck can do is head to the sideline and start studying the opposing defense in order to do better on the next drive.

As for the kidney injury: learn to slide. Luck has an innate ability to keep plays alive and can scramble pretty well when he needs to. This is part of his game that the coaches shouldn’t take away, but he has to know when to slide, get out of bounds, or just take a dive to avoid a big hit.

Luck’s Development

Those injuries will become far less likely if Luck can take the next step in his development. It is something we never saw last season because of the injuries and Luck never being comfortable on the field. He was doing things a rookie does (staring down receivers, aiming passes, not progressing through reads) and it was clearly due to his myriad of injuries. When he looked his best, against the Broncos, Luck played very well but then tried to do some weird spin move that got him hurt late in that game.

This is going to sound familiar, because we talked about it extensively before last season. Luck has made improvements every year in the league, the next big thing he needs to do is get the ball out of the pocket quicker. The importance of the offensive line is lessened if Luck makes quicker reads and throws the ball before the pass rush can bring any pressure.

The best QBs in the league make their offensive lineman’s jobs much easier when they only have to hold their blocks for a second or two. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady didn’t always have great offensive line throughout their careers, but both have been among the least sacked QBs because they got rid of the ball quickly.

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This falls into the category of “Luck protecting himself.” He can save himself some hits making these quicker reads. If he doesn’t, he’s going to take his fair share of hits in 2016. Right now, we can’t expect the protection to improve (it would a pleasant surprise if it did though) and it is on Luck to keep himself upright this coming season. Luck himself has talked about how he can improve his game, and these are all things he knows he needs to improve on.

Another season full of hits and we’ll see 2015 repeat itself. But if Luck takes that next step, the Colts will find themselves back in the playoffs and in the hunt for a championship.