NFL Film Review of 2019 MVP Favorites: Andrew Luck’s Comeback Season

Ethan Hewett | July 12th, 2019

2018 was a surprising year for the Indianapolis Colts. With an extremely young defense, and Andrew Luck returning from a nasty shoulder injury, expectations were rather low. However, Luck made an incredible comeback. While they started the season 1-5, they came back to finish 10-6 and earned themselves a wild-card berth in the playoffs. Luck put up some impressive numbers along the way as well. Today, we dove back into the film from his 2018 campaign to see just how well he did. Along with a couple of factors that he can improve on. If he can do that, expect the Colts to once again be in playoff contention, and Luck in consideration for the Most Valuable Player in 2019.

Current 2019 MVP Odds: +800

Not many other quarterbacks in the National Football League had as much pressure on them as Andrew Luck did in 2018. After missing all of 2017 with a shoulder injury, he was tasked with carrying an Indianapolis Colts team with a young and still developing defense, and not many weapons on offense to help. Luck’s 2018 return to the field saw things get off to a slow start. However, Luck found his groove around mid-season in Frank Reich’s offense and didn’t slow down until the playoffs tallying 4,953 yards along with 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Reich’s offensive scheme really played to Luck’s strengths. 

Luck was able to drop back in the pocket and would pick apart the defense and find an open man. The Colts offense also consisted of a lot of underneath concepts, such as mesh or stick concepts allowing Luck to quickly deliver throws. Along with these short quick throws, they would also throw in play actions that would vertically stretch the defense and open deeper routes that Luck would recognize instantly and deliver an accurate strike to T.Y. Hilton or hit Eric Ebron down the seam.   

When it comes to sitting in the pocket and delivering a strike, there aren’t many quarterbacks better than Luck. His ability to recognize different kinds of coverages, and knowing where and how to attack them is at an elite level. A 2018 Week 3 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles is demonstrative of this ability.

The Colts were down by four late in the game, 2nd and 10 from the Eagles 45-yard line. They came out in a 3-wide look with the Eagles playing soft coverage, meaning the cornerbacks were playing around 8-10 yards deep. As the play progressed, it became clear that they were playing a Cover-3 Zone defense, meaning there were three defenders deep with four covering the underneath routes. When the linebackers played down to defend Ebron coming across the middle, it opened up the Dig route to Ryan Grant. Luck recognized this quickly and threw a well placed and anticipated pass for a 22-yard gain.

Week 7 against the Buffalo Bills, another example. It’s 2nd and 8 from the Bills 17-yard line. The Colts came out with a two-tight end look to Luck’s right. With two high safeties, you could guess that the Bills were going to be playing Cover-2. As the play progressed, the linebackers and corners stayed low, indicating zone coverage. The two tight ends, Eric Ebron and Eric Swoope, ran a switch concept, forcing the safety to go with one or the other. As soon as the safety shifted outside to cover Ebron, the middle was wide open for Swoope. Once again Luck delivered a strike to the weak spot of the defense for the touchdown and the lead.

Part of what allows Luck to make these kinds of throws is his pocket presence. Luck shows a lot of confidence. While this could be because of the great offensive line he had, Luck would stand in the pocket, step up, look through his reads and make the throw time and time again during the season, even if there was a free blitzer coming up the middle. Luck had a 108.1 passer rating when operating with a clean pocket, which was above the league average. However, his awareness and ability to move within the pocket is what really makes Andrew Luck so special. He is able to find the sweet spot in the pocket and still deliver a timely and usually catchable pass. This kind of movement could be part of what allowed him to still have a 104.5 passer rating when there was a blitz.

While he succeeds from the pocket, Luck also can make plays happen from the outside. While he is no Patrick Mahomes, Luck can still deliver an accurate, well-placed throw to an open man on the run. We saw this kind of across the body throw in Week 3 against the Eagles. He felt the pressure, stepped up and rolled to his right to see Hilton come open on his deep-out route across the field. So he wound up his upper body and delivered an accurate pass. As you can see, Luck can extend the play when he needs too.

Red zone football is key to success, and Luck is pretty good at that. When in the red zone, Luck has a passer rating of 112.9, which may seem average, but is actually several points above the league average. While Luck may struggle with his accuracy, his fade route, back-shoulder throw in the end zone is one of the best in the league. His placement for his receivers to go up and get the ball is top-notch, along with his trust in his receivers to make that catch. It’s also important to get positive yardage when near the goal line, and Luck does just that by averaging 4.2 yards a play.

While there are several great things about Luck’s game, there are a few things that may be holding him back a little bit. Luck’s placement and accuracy are actually pretty average. With an adjusted completion percentage of 75.7%, this puts him just .4% above the league average. This stat, however, doesn’t tell the full story. Especially when he is trying to fit a pass into tight coverage. 

While it’s only one part of the game, accuracy is important, and if there really was something that I could pick out and say to improve, it would be his accuracy when throwing into tight windows. According to Pro Football Focus, Luck ranked 18th when the receiver had more than two steps on the defender. This puts him right around the league average. What puts other quarterbacks ahead of him to me, is his accuracy in tighter coverage. When the receiver had one or two steps or a defender was closing in, Luck ranked 11th. Then the final category of less than one step, Luck still ranked 13th in the league. 

We saw this happen a lot in Week 1 against the Bengals. Often times Luck would simply miss his target. Several crossing routes would wind up behind the receiver and nearly intercepted or he would throw off of his back foot to a hitch route causing the ball to stay too high and fly over the receiver. To me, this lack of accuracy likely stems from his footwork. There would be times when he simply wouldn’t be facing where he wanted to throw it, taking his lower body out of the picture. This can cause a lot of inaccuracy. Luck would also sometimes stay on his back foot, as I mentioned before. 

Now we need to address the elephant in the room, Luck’s health. Luck dealt with a nagging shoulder injury that emerged in 2015, along with other internal injuries, forcing him to miss parts of 2016 and missing all of 2017. While he may be healthy now, his history still earns him the “injury-prone” label. However, he does seem to be in a much better physical state, and when he is on the field he is an incredible quarterback.

Luck had a great comeback season in 2018. After three years of dealing with all kinds of injuries, it was great to see Luck back full-time and healthy. To me, Luck is borderline elite, meaning that there are just a couple of small things that if he can improve upon, he will reach that threshold and become one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. With the addition of Paris Campbell, the Ohio State product that the Colts drafted in the 2nd round of the 2019 NFL Draft, this Colts offense has reloaded for the 2019 season. I expect great things from Luck and the Colts in 2019 and don’t be surprised to see Luck’s name near the top of the list for MVP next season.

Check out the other NFL Film Review of 2019 MVP Favorites:  Patrick Mahomes|

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