With Andrew Luck once again withstanding an exorbitant amount of sacks and QB hits in the pocket, does the Indianapolis Colts quarterback actually have control or is someone else to blame?
It goes without saying, but Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has been hit entirely too much this season.
Entering last weekend’s game against the Chicago Bears, he was on a career high pace for punishment in the pocket. Now, just a week later, Luck currently leads the league with 60 total sacks and is also tied for the 2nd most QB hits with 40 total QB hits.
Currently, the Colts are on pace for 64 total sacks, which would be the 4th most ever in league history (per the Indianapolis Star’s Zak Keefer). Simply put, it’s not a recipe for sustained success going forward, as the more exorbitant hits Luck undertakes, the more at risk he is to be subjected to another significant or season-ending injury.
In the aftermath, it has caused some members of the media to question whether it’s even the offensive line that should be shouldering significant blame or Luck himself.
Specifically, these media members wonder whether Luck is holding onto the football too long in the pocket in order to make a big play instead of savvily dumping it off or away–something that Luck readily admitted to earlier this week:
"“I’ve said this before, maybe after every game, I don’t think the sack totals are necessarily indicative of how well our offensive line is playing,” said Luck on Wednesday. “A lot of those (sacks), you can blame on me for holding onto the ball for too long.”"
Luck’s words are admirable, but does anyone expect anything different from the Colts quarterback, who’s literally said all the right things since so gracefully replacing franchise legend Peyton Manning?
He’s a stand-up guy.
He’s not going to throw his teammates under the bus, especially the ones whose effort can very well determine whether he’s being carted off into the locker room in-game by their blocking upfront.
He wants to keep standing upright.
So is Luck actually the problem?
According to ESPN’s Mike Wells, Luck is holding the football 2.81 seconds, which is 0.33 seconds longer than the league average this season. Per Pro Football Focus, at least entering last week, Luck held the football on average longer than any other quarterback except one in the NFL.
Is Luck completely blameless?
Of course not, the Colts quarterback does at times, have to do a better job of getting the football out of his hands faster and simply dumping off the football to his checkdown or throwing the ball away if it comes down to it–rather than take an unnecessary sack or QB hit.
However, Wells points out that 7 of Luck’s 10 passing touchdowns have come when Luck holds the football longer than the league average this season–so it’s often been feast or famine for the Colts offense at it relates to either scoring touchdowns or Luck taking exorbitant hits respectively.
Additionally, Wells adds this interesting tidbit:
"“The 2.81 seconds Luck is holding the ball is .13 seconds longer than he did in 2014 when he set a career high in passing yards (4,761 yards) and touchdowns (40). Luck was only sacked 27 times that season.”"
Simply put, the Colts offense seems to be at its best when Luck and his receivers are striking in big chunks–often coming at the expense of his body.
An offense has to play to its personnel, and right now, the Colts offense is sorely missing its closest thing to a big bodied, possession wide receiver Donte Moncrief–who at 6’2″, 222 pounds, is the only wide receiver on the roster over 200 pounds.
The Colts are not only missing Moncrief, but also what last year’s veteran wide receiver signing Andre Johnson failed to become before his offseason release.
Currently, the Colts top wide receivers are T.Y. Hilton (5’9″, 180 lbs.) and Phillip Dorsett (5’10”, 185 lbs)–tremendous deep threats, but wideouts who at times can struggle beating press coverage (jams) at the line of scrimmage for shorter routes.
Instead, both Hilton and to a lesser extent Dorsett make up for their smallish statures by blazing past defenders with their sub-4.35 forty times–which is best maximized by running deeper routes like an unfair footrace.
The Colts finally did get some top-end production from tight end Dwayne Allen last weekend, who woke up from hibernation to the tune of 6 receptions for 50 receiving yards and a touchdown–having previously been dormant.
The Colts have to play to their strengths and with a lack of a proven possession receiver, that means ‘going deep’ more often than not.
Meanwhile, the Colts offensive line has to be better in pass protection too.
While the unit has been much maligned, their starting offensive line (when healthy) isn’t actually as bad as it may seem. From left to center, Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, and Ryan Kelly appear to be at least above average offensive lineman at their respective positions–maybe even more.
To their credit, the Colts offensive line was better against the Chicago Bears, as per Pro Football Focus, Luck was only pressured 7 times on 49 dropbacks–although 5 of those resulted in sacks.
However, prior to that point, Luck was the highest pressured quarterback in football at 41.8% of his dropbacks.
Some of that is Luck holding onto the football far too long, but some of it is conversely the Colts playing to their personnel with play-calls–featuring smallish wide receivers and attempting to overcome a lack of a proven possession target by going deep.
Most of all, it’s presumably the right side of the starting offensive line–which has been rather suspect up to this point. Whatever combination of Reitz, Good, or Haeg–even rookie Austin Blythe, the Colts have yet to solidify that side of the offensive line which has posed major problems in pass protection for Luck and the offense.
Between the personnel and the right side of the starting offensive line, there’s only so much Luck can do.
Get rid of the football faster?
It may simply be out of Luck’s hands.