Through the first five weeks of the season the Indianapolis Colts have been on both sides of some close games. Thus far, the Colts have an average game score differential of -2.2 points per game, an average margin of defeat of seven points and an average margin of victory of five points. In fact, outside of the game in Denver in which the Colts had possession and were trailing by six points with less than two minutes to go, all of their games have been decided by six points or fewer.
There is a legitimate argument that the Colts could be 5-0 right now despite looking inept for long stretches in their first five games. One of the reasons the Colts have remained within striking distance so often is due to the second half performances of Andrew Luck despite receiving little-to-no help from his defense.
More specifically, he’s been quite amazing in the second half, putting up near flawless numbers to the tune of 74-of-112 (66%) for 877 passing yards (175.4 ypg), eight touchdowns and only one interception. Additionally, Luck’s performances in the fourth quarters of games have been even more impressive, and keep in mind that he isn’t getting a ton of consistency from those payed to protect him either.
In comparison to the rest of the league, the Colts offense is putting up 6.79 yards per play (9th), have a 1.2% turnover rate (8th, seven teams have zero fourth quarter turnovers), seven touchdowns (1st), 25 first downs (2nd) all while being 26th in the league allowing six fourth quarter sacks.
Luck, individually, in fourth quarters is tops among the rest of the NFL’s signal callers in passing yards (586), 6th in completion percentage (67.1%) among quarterbacks with 45 or more fourth quarter attempts, first in touchdowns (seven), he’s tied with 15 other quarterbacks with one fourth quarter interception, is tops in first downs (25), and has the best QB rating amongst quarterbacks with 30 or more fourth quarter attempts. Did I mention that he’s been sacked six times in the fourth quarter as well? Only Ryan Tannehill, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton have been taken down more in the fourth quarter.
This is remarkable on its own, when considering Luck has been constantly under pressure the majority of each game this season. But to see that he is excelling in the face of all of this pressure and having no semblance of a running game to keep opposing defenses honest is almost mind-blowing. And he’s not just carrying the offense, he’s carrying the offense while his defense can’t seem to stop anybody in the most important quarter of the game. This is eerily reminiscent of Luck’s rookie season when he had to bring the Colts back week in, and week out — and I’d be willing to bet this defense is worse.
In the deciding quarter of games this season, the Colts’ defense is allowing 9.67 yards per play (32nd), a 43.6% first down rate (31st), have allowed 24 first downs (27th), are one of seven teams without an interception and are one of just six teams with a single sack or less.
If all of this isn’t enough to convince you that Luck is an elite-level quarterback breaking his back to carry a less-than-adequate roster, then find me a quarterback who has done anything close to this for multiple seasons. Luck, by all accounts, is about as durable as any quarterback in the league, however, having to escape pressure on over 40% of his dropbacks as well as having to make magic in the fourth quarter — often coming from behind — because his defense can’t stop a nosebleed, is far too much to ask from the franchise’s most precious player, at the most precious position in the game.
Recently we heard Colts’ general manager Ryan Grigson attempt to rationalize his inability to build a quality defense due to Luck’s heavy contract. Grigson apparently took a four-year nap while Luck was on his rookie contract, and may have been sleep walking when he said it’s ‘weak’ to draft for need back in April. When you have one, or maybe even two simple needs to complete a team it’s easy to agree with that statement. However, when nearly your entire defense is a ‘need’, that’s a whole other story.
In the end, it’s obvious that Luck is carrying a significant portion of this roster with minimal help, and is doing it in amazing fashion. But, one could argue that he is carrying the fate of his coach and GM as well. Let’s just hope Luck’s back doesn’t break in the process.