The Whistleblower No. 6: Andrew Luck Doesn’t Put Out His Own Fires

NFLWhistleBlower

It’s been a while since The Whistleblower last made his appearance. If I ever hit the lottery I would do nothing but write articles like this at my leisure, but for now we’ll settle for periodic outbursts of statistical shaming.

In NFL circles, Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady is the all-time quarterback debate, and Matt Ryan vs. Joe Flacco is one that rages on in only the darkest corners of the internet. Somewhere in between, there’s a growing Andrew Luck vs. Russell Wilson war with the basis for comparison being the 74 picks that came between them in the 2012 draft.

For today, I don’t care about Russell Wilson.

This Rolling Stone article about Luck, written by what I am led to believe is a Seahawks fan, was brought to my attention. The article links to Luck’s fourth-quarter comebacks at PFR, which is of course my personal addition to the site, but like with any other general counting stat, there’s a lot of context missing.

The author especially misses this context when he makes the mistake of assuming “Luck has often had to fail in order to set himself up for success.” Using the comeback win against Kansas City in the playoffs is one of the worst examples anyone could make.

“Take that win over Kansas City. The same game that had many saying that Luck had “arrived” also happened to be a game in which he threw three interceptions. Indianapolis came back from a 38-10 deficit largely because of Luck, but how quickly we forget that he also had something to do with his team being down 28 points in the first place: Two of his three picks led to scoring drives by the Chiefs.”

He didn’t mention one of Luck’s interceptions was really a bad-luck drop by T.Y. Hilton, but forget that. What about the fact that Luck was down 24-7 and to that point had completed 7-of-9 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown? Both incompletions were a direct result of pressure in the pocket. Luck didn’t make a mistake and still trailed by three scores, which is usually a recipe for a loss, especially in the postseason. Any later turnovers are rather irrelevant to the story, and not just because he rallied them back to a win. If you’re trying to pinpoint the reason the Colts were down big so fast, the obvious answer was a defense unable to stop Alex f’n Smith.

Luck didn’t set that fire, but he put it out with 45 points, 483 yards of offense, a memorable fumble recovery and a dagger throw for the game-winner.

So that made me whip up a table. Luck has led the Colts to wins after trailing by double-digits seven times in the last two years, which is remarkable. Somehow, Luck is 7-9 (.438) when trailing by 12+ points compared to a league average win percentage of about 10 percent.

Whether a team is down 14-0 early or 28-14 late, they still had to come back from a two-score deficit to win the game. I wanted to see what Luck had done up to the initial point in which he needed a two-score rally to get the win. Does he really put the Colts behind with poor play only to get the credit for bailing them out later?

Does Andrew Luck put out his own fires or not?

I included Success Rate (SucRate), just so we’re not crediting the QB for completing a 2-yard pass on 3rd-and-10. A “successful play” gains 45 percent of needed yards on first down (40 percent for runs), 60 percent on second down and 100 percent on third/fourth down. I also included the number of drives Luck engineered in the game to that point along with the time remaining when the Colts first trailed by double digits.

Luck7CB

The success rate could be better, but those numbers don’t look too bad for the quarterback, who barely had the ball before facing a big deficit. That’s 7.62 YPA and a very low sack rate with just one turnover. One. Those numbers actually should be zero interceptions and three sacks. In the 2012 game against Tennessee, officials blew the replay on a sack (knee was down) that Luck tried to get rid of the ball on, and that became a pick-six. So the only turnover actually shouldn’t have even counted.

We also can see that in the last three games, Luck trailed by multiple scores despite not throwing more than two incompletions. That sounds like a defense getting burned to me. In all three games the defense allowed a game-opening touchdown drive.

It’s a legitimate stance that Luck carries a flawed team to victory. The Rolling Stone article continues with this gem:

If Andrew Luck is great because he has to keep bailing his team out every week, then that’s not a very good reason for being known as “great.”

Well, when you’re not the main reason they need bailed out, then why not? Great quarterbacks elevate their teams and Luck has been doing that since he was a rookie. How else can the Colts be 22-10 the last two years with suspect coaching, a porous offensive line, an insignificant running game and a sieve for a defense?

Evidence that Luck starts these early deficits is lacking, but there’s plenty of evidence that he’s responsible for finishing the comebacks.

I don’t expect Luck to continue pulling out these wins with regularity, but as long as Trent Richardson is chugging along at 2.9 yards per carry, expect to see more early big deficits for the Colts. We can also expect to see more ill-contrived articles blaming Luck for each triumph.

When boy sets fire God knows you’ve lost at a cost that has no price when you’ve purchased guilt.

— Coheed and Cambria, Junesong Provision

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