Friday, January 3, 2014

QB Corner - Andrew Luck (IND @ CIN)

In anticipation of this weekend's games, QB Corner (#QBCorner) will be working overtime to provide analysis on the game tape of young playoff quarterbacks. Many young quarterbacks have made it back to the playoffs for a second year, including Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Cam Newton. In fact there are as many young signal callers (including Nick Foles in his first playoff appearance) as older ones: Manning, Brady, Rivers, Smith, Rodgers, Brees.

One interesting game from this last season that made one team look a lot better than the other was the Week 14 Indianapolis at Cincinnati match. The Bengals won 48-28, kicking off a hot streak of 4-straight 30+ point games to end the season. That win, along with home wins over Green Bay in Week 3 and New England in the driving rain of Week 5, were the the Bengals only victories over playoff teams this season.

For the Colts, the blowout loss happened in the middle of a 4-4 stretch when the offense caved without Reggie Wayne and the defense looked solved as teams figured Robert Mathis as the only potent pass rusher. During these 8 games, the Colts were outscored by a whopping 63 points, including losses to the Chargers, Rams, Cardinals, and of course, Bengals. In fact, the Colts' season-long point differential of +55 is worse than every playoff team except Green Bay (for obvious reasons) and San Diego.

Of course, there are extraneous reasons for those losses, including the aforementioned Wayne injury. But the Colts' young signal caller, Andrew Luck, has not been above reproach. Despite posting a decent win total for the second straight year, Luck was only 16th in Football Outsiders DVOA. Look at some of the stats:

Player A is 2012 Andrew Luck and Player B is the 2013 version. Luck is throwing less, but completing significantly more passes and making better decisions with the ball - an interception rate below 2.0% is really elite. Luck is still the most hit QB in the league, but his sack numbers are down.

But who is Player C? This guy doesn't throw a lot but when he does, he's even better than Player B. He is superior in every single rate statistic besides sack %, and his 6.5 yards/attempt rushing average helps offset that. This line represents Andrew's stats for the 7 games he played this year with Reggie Wayne, pro-rated for a full 16 game season. Player D represents the 9 games Luck played after Wayne was hurt. It's not surprising that losing the best receiver makes a QB worse - something similar has happened to Colin Kaepernick with Michael Crabtree - but Luck without Wayne has been really bad. His 5.31 Adjusted Net Yards / Attempt (the bold column) is not only the lowest one of this sample set, but is the worst among the starting QB's I analyzed earlier in the Nick Foles post. Even RG3's 5.48 mark this season is better.

Let's look at the tape from the Cincy loss and try to see where Luck is at developmentally and why his numbers have declined. I watched every pass from this game multiple times; I'll post only the interesting throws for brevity (a total of 49 dropbacks):

Jump straight to the Conclusion
Good job looking the safeties off to his right while still dropping back. You'll notice throughout this post that Luck has an advanced ability to manipulate the coverage with his eyes and feet.
At the end of his drop, he is back square to the middle. Fantastic stuff.
Nothing is open downfield. See how his left foot is behind him as he pumps? His footwork is too good for that - he's already made the decision to take off. He's tripped after a 2 yard gain but it's the right idea.

Great footwork yet again. A correct throwing motion allows him to get the ball high, near his right ear.
The throw is an ISO route to a well covered receiver. Andrew correctly throws it high but not out of reach, where only his guy can catch the ball. The throw is incomplete, but he gives his man a chance.

He's got a seam/go combination on the right side that stretches the defense horizontally. Both routes are well covered.
Luck guns it to the seam, trying to fit it between the linebacker and safety. I found just a little bit of a gunslinger in him - sometimes he'll try to fit throws into really small windows, and when doing so, has a tendency to throw hard and high. This ball was tipped and was luckily not intercepted.

The tight end running an out is open but Cincy is getting pressure on the left side of the offensive line and a pass that direction probably would have been batted.
 I don't know how Luck completes this ball, the RB ultimately gets a yards or so past the line of scrimmage.

Looking the safety to the middle of the field.
Adjusts his hips to his left; two receivers are running to this sideline at different depths, a levels concept the Colts used to run with Peyton.
Corner is all over the receiver, right on the sideline. Look how well placed the throw is; the receiver isn't able to stay inbounds, but this pass traveled about 30 yards in the air and missed by a couple of inches.

Great footwork again.
Look how chest is pointed in the direction of his target upon release. If your receiver can read your number, you're doing something right.
Well played deep curl, high against tight coverage, but the receiver can't hang on.

Another nice job of getting to his drop with feet pointed down the middle...
...and then flipped to the left to throw. It is easier to align your hips when throwing left - you just have to step with your front foot. One thing I noticed in Louisville's bowl game was Teddy Bridgewater was much better throwing to his left than his right. But I digress.
Good footwork results in a beautifully thrown out to slot receiver. Notice the safety is late because Luck kept him glued to the middle of the field.

Cincy bringing some pressure.
Luck adjusts his feet to a hot read.
The pass is a little low but on-time and beats the rush.

Read is to a tight end crossing the formation. Luck notices that the left defensive end is sitting on the route and could bat/intercept it.
 He hangs on to it, tries to work inside, but the coverage is excellent.
Forced from the pocket, Luck somehow escapes and throws the ball away.

You can't see him, but the running back has completely whiffed on an edge rusher that gets a free shot at Luck. The Colts have had protection issues for two years and the backs are a big part of the problem.
 Luck somehow manages to thrown this one away before being dragged down.

Cincy is playing some very physical coverage. It messes up the timing on this route just enough.
Great footwork. I like that having almost been sacked the previous play, Luck steps forward, still trusting his line to get the job done against Cincy's great front.
The DB held up the receiver just enough that this pass is a little in front, but still caught.

The first read is downfield to the left, but it's covered.
Luck does a nice job of stepping up in the pocket and flipping his hips to the right. Luck has moved a full 1.5 yards up in the pocket. Notice how the speed rusher that was to his left is now several yards behind him - the rusher's momentum has taken him out of the play because of Luck stepping up.
Good footwork allows Luck to throw with his natural motion, again keeping the ball high near his ear.
A completion to the second read that looks easy.

Good footwork again. I sound like a broken record
Luck puts great touch on this pass that travels ~40 yards and is placed perfectly beyond the reach of a diving CB. His receiver drops it. Sensing a theme?

I don't know how he gets this off. This pass shows remarkable pocket presence and game management, too - he knows a sack takes them out of field goal range.
Luck dumps it off much short of the first down but leaves open the 44 yard FG (it was missed, but that's beside the point).

 Nicely thrown intermediate crossing route after the safeties are cleared deep.
Not sure having a wide-open receiver drop the ball was part of the game plan.

Quickly identifies the correct receiver on the left side, shuffles his feet, and throws.
His chest is pointing at where the ball is going...
...and that's where it is delivered.

 Under some pressure to make something happen down 14 points with the 1st half ticking away.
He guns it to a well-covered receiver in the middle of the field. However, a receiver running to the right sideline is open, probably able to get the first down and out of bounds. For the most part, decisiveness is good, but sometimes Luck tries to fit passes into impossibly small windows.

2nd Half

Trying to throw a RB screen to the left, the rush gets there very early - look how unbalanced Luck is. That leads to a bad throw that's incomplete.

Great feet on a slant. Notice in the next shot how quickly the pocket collapses after Luck releases the ball.
Tackled for a 1st down, nothing to see here, right?
Uh oh. What happened in the Cincinnati secondary?
This next angle is a great shot of Luck stepping into the throw.
Look where he places it. By leading the receiver and making the catch easy, Luck prepares his guy to absorb contact and run through it.

Read to the right is not open.
Neither is the left. Nice job stepping up. He's 2.5 yards up in the pocket, and look where all the rushers went - behind him.
Takes off. This doesn't happen if he doesn't step forward as he progresses through his reads. Great pocket presence.
30 yards later here we are. The Cincinnati defender probably did not have getting trucked by a QB on his bucket later.

WR screen to his left that's batted by the leaping defensive lineman. Could have been a better pass to get it around the line. Cincy diagnosed it well.

Works inside after starting pointed to the sideline.
Good footwork, pretty standard dig for 4 yards.

 7 missed tackles later, he waltzes into the end zone. How do 7 guys miss tackles on a pass play?

Nice job adjusting this throw - it's a little low, but I think that's on purpose to get the receiver down to avoid a big hit.

That's a sack.
Wait he escaped! Somehow Houdini gets away and throws it away.

Cincy bringing pressure again. Good recognition of blitz, throws hot quickly and converts on 3rd and 3.

Starts to the right and works all the way to the numbers on the left side, his feet moving in sync with his eyes.

Perfectly thrown go route to the right.
Luck does a great job lofting it in over the coverage. Throwing with touch is something he has definitely worked on.
Look how his arm position remains high, the ball passing near that right ear.

Manipulates safeties to the right, works back to the middle.
At the last minute though, he pump fakes and tries to go back to the right. He's hit while thrown and the pass is high and dangerous. A little bit of that gunslinger showing again.

Footwork is decent, but a little behind the receiver.
It looks like his timing is a little bit off with the receiver, so Luck tries to make up for it by really gunning it. The pass is thrown high, hard, and behind, and is incomplete. Not all passes have to be thrown 100 mph to be complete - remember the Peyton quote where he said that he throws "a lot of wobbly touchdowns, too." It's not about how fast you can throw as much as having the right timing, releasing the ball quickly so it gets there on-time.

I'll stop there. Luck had a number of nice throws after this point, but the Cincy defense retreated into a shell up 14 points, and a lot of throws were checkdowns to running backs (though to be fair, they were well-thrown checkdowns that saw Luck make numerous footwork adjustments).


The Good

  1. Brilliant footwork. Unlike other QBs that have struggled with drop-backs (Kaepernick), feet/hips (Newton, Griffin), Andrew Luck consistently exhibited good footwork. His flips moved fluidly left and right and followed his eyes through his reads. 
  2. Pocket presence. Luck showed great confidence in the pocket, stepping into all of his throws, even after sacks or hits. He slid into spaces with small steps and without taking his eyes of the field, something Newton, Kaepernick, Griffin, and Foles all tended to do.
  3. Looking off safeties. Again and again, Luck would set up defenders with his drop or his eyes. He rarely left his eyes glued to his intended receiver.
  4. Advanced ability to recognize coverages and get through reads. His ability to understand not only his offense but defensive coverages allowed him time to look defenders off. He was able to quickly identify secondary reads targets on a consistent basis.
  5. Good accuracy and touch. Numerous throws were only his guy could reach the ball. Consistently released the ball high. I would say his arm is not as strong/accurate as Griffin/Newton/Kaepernick, but because his motion is more consistent, he delivers more balls on target than those guys.
  6. Athleticism. He is really, really hard to bring down. Reminds me a lot of Ben Roethlisberger.

The Bad
  1. Short throws. Luck missed a few of these. In some instances, it seems like his timing/chemistry with the receivers is off and he rushed/gunned some throws. I wasn't watching for their route running; bad routes can easily throw off timing, but something Andrew can work on.
  2. Gunslinger. Luck sometimes tries to fit passes into windows that aren't there. He also was very aggressive on some throws where shorter passes for 1st downs were available. He also has a tendency, when the defense drops a lot of guys back, to pump a few times and try to find an open man. He didn't take any sacks this game, but several big hits could have easily turned into sacks.
  3. Overthrows. He missed only a few receivers high, but I've noticed that Luck has a tendency to overthrow guys in the intermediate, 10-20 yard range. He has good touch on deeper throws, but needs to work on improving that touch to all areas of the field.
The Context
  1. Indy Running Backs. Were horrible. Luck was the leading rusher on the day; everyone else averaged 3.1 yards/carry. The backs even missed some assignments in pass blocking. They contributed some yards receiving, but most of those were checkdowns in garbage time.
  2. Indy Receivers. Dropped numerous passes. Granted the coverage was good, but many of these were balls thrown beyond the reach of corners and safeties. A couple big TD plays doesn't make up for a lack of consistency.
  3. Cincy Coverage. Was solid the whole game. Luck was throwing a lot of guys open.

Overall, Luck showed me that he is, at this point, the most advanced quarterback I've analyzed here in QB Corner. Nick Foles has better numbers, but did not show the fluidity in reads, pocket presence, and mobility that Luck did. Foles also has LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Chip Kelly. I think if Luck were to trade places with Foles, Andrew would turn into a nightmare for defenses everywhere. Add his skills with his size and ability to avoid injury, and you get the the best young quarterback in the NFL. I know this isn't exactly revelatory, but it's nice to see an overall No. 1 pick live up to expectations. I think as the team around him gets better, Andrew Luck will turn into a truly special player. I look forward to Saturday's playoff game with the Chiefs, a game I think the Colts will win.

Follow me @xingtheli ! You Make The Calls, #YouMakeTheCalls #QBCorner #YMTC

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