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Analyzing Andrew Luck's Strengths and Weaknesses

2014-11-04T052728Z_826362331_NOCID_RTRMADP_3_NFL-INDIANAPOLIS-COLTS-AT-NEW-YORK-GIANTS.jpg


It's gotta be the horseshoe.

It seems any quarterback puts up big numbers when he puts on the Indianapolis Colts' blue and white uniform and helmet with the U-shaped logo embossed on the side.

Andrew Luck is not the same quarterback as Peyton Manning, though he may be equally prolific. The two quarterbacks have different strengths and weaknesses, so obviously the Patriots will not use the same game plan as the one they used to harry Manning two weeks ago en route to a 43-21 curbstomping at Gillette Stadium.

They will have to be focused on keeping Luck in the pocket, but they may also have to hope for some "dumb luck" along the way.

Let's examine Luck's strengths and weaknesses to see where he can hurt the Patriots, and how the Patriots may be able to slow him down.


Downfield Accuracy

According to stats website ProFootballFocus.com, Luck has been accurate (either completed or dropped pass) on 52.2 percent of his throws that traveled 20 yards or more downfield. That is the sixth-highest accuracy percentage in the NFL, out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks.

He has the arm and the accuracy to hit every throw.

The back shoulder fade is one of the hardest throws an NFL quarterback can make, and on 2nd-and-7 with 8:21 remaining in the third quarter against the Tennessee Titans, he made it look elementary on a 28-yard touchdown to wide receiver Reggie Wayne.

Wayne had a defender draped on him, but Luck placed the ball in such a perfect spot that he didn't have to break stride or even stretch his arms out very far to make the catch.

"I think they lead the league in explosive plays, and [accuracy] definitely has something to do with it," said linebacker Dont'a Hightower. "He's very accurate down the field, and he's got some great guys to throw the ball to: Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, the cast goes on. I think it's more about him getting outside the pocket, extending those plays and giving those guys a chance to make big plays."

The Colts have a league-high 52 plays that have gained 20 yards or more, and a league-high 48 of those plays were via pass. Luck barely moved in the pocket on the above play, but we've seen plenty of plays from the Colts which have been an immediate result of Luck's mobility.


Mobility

Luck is respected for his legs, both in his willingness to tuck the ball and run when plays break down and in his ability to extend plays by moving around behind the line of scrimmage while keeping his eyes downfield.

The latter is probably a more dangerous weapon than the former, though he can hurt a defense with both.

On 1st-and-goal at the 7-yard line with 31 seconds remaining in the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars, it looked like the defensive line might collapse the pocket on Luck.

Luck in the pocket is like a deer in the woods. A hunter can't move too quickly in targeting its game. The defense generated just enough pressure to scare Luck out of the pocket, but not enough to keep him in it.

In fact, the Jaguars gave Luck an easy out by failing to contain the perimeter of the pocket, allowing Luck to roll to his right (the comfortable way to roll for a right-handed quarterback). The play was initially well-covered, but with a few steps out of the pocket, Luck bought Coby Fleener some more time to get open and find the soft spot in coverage. Fleener did just that, and Luck found him in front of the end zone, scoring a touchdown


Decision Making

Now, we've come to a weakness. Yes, it's possible for a quarterback who is on pace to set a record for passing yards to have weaknesses in his game, and although he may be the next big thing among NFL quarterbacks, he's not quite there yet, and one reason is erratic decision making.

Colts quarterback coach Clyde Christensen acknowledges that the mistakes are still happening, but Luck has improved his ability to quickly understand what caused the mistake to happen.

"Now, there's a lot more of coming to the sideline and (saying), 'Aha, here's what happened,'" Christensen said, according to Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star. "He knows exactly what's taking place. Now we need to translate that into an aggressive mode where you see it before it happens. Then you've got something."

A defense can capitalize if it waits for Luck to make mistakes, because he will make them during the course of the game.

On 2nd-and-5 with 14:25 left in the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Luck threw a pick-six that gave Pittsburgh a 21-3 lead. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (circled in yellow) ran a 10-yard hitch on the left side. The Steelers dropped back in zone coverage, and cornerback William Gay (circled in black) saw the pattern develop and broke on it before the ball was thrown.

Luck later characterized it as a "stupid" throw, and that's a fair assessment with the amount (read: lack) of space between Nicks and Gay when Luck released the ball. Throwing it blind, without looking before deciding to throw, didn't help.

Maybe it's the playmaker mentality in him, but he will often hold the ball hoping one of his receivers will come open downfield, or try fitting the ball into a tight window. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Luck has the NFL's 10th-highest average time in the pocket (2.76 seconds) and eighth-highest average time before attempting a pass (2.63 seconds).

On 2nd-and-1 with 1:10 left in the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens, Luck tried a deep shot to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on a deep post pattern. As he tried to step into the throw, he was drilled by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but he felt he could still get the ball out in time and still put it in the right spot. He was dead wrong, though. He underthrew the pass into double coverage, and was lucky not to be intercepted.

Luck has all the tools, but like anyone in the NFL, he is not mistake-proof. An opponent will have its opportunities to capitalize, but an inability to do so could give Luck all the wiggle room he needs to overcome the mistake.

Luck is developing into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but he will still give his opponents opportunities to prove he's not there yet.


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