INDIANAPOLIS – Last Sunday against Miami, quarterback
It was a masterful performance for a franchise that has seen many throughout its 60 seasons, and it was one that will stand as a reference point for Luck’s maturation.
As one of six rookies to start on opening day for the Colts, Luck has traversed his first eight games in memorable style.
He has helped direct the Colts to fourth-quarter or overtime comeback victories four times this season, with Minnesota, Green Bay and Tennessee joining Miami as teams that Indianapolis has beaten in the late, clutch moments of games.
It was Luck performing in certain clutch situations against Miami that was particularly impressive.
Last week, Indianapolis was facing a Miami defense that ranked among the league’s best in many categories, and one that stood as the only unit in the league to limit each of its previous opponents to 14 points or less.
Part of Miami’s success was holding opponents on third downs. Miami entered the game surrendering conversions on only 26.4 percent of attempts (28-106), and converting successfully through the air on that down only had been a recent success for Indianapolis.
Luck hit his first six third-down pass attempts against Miami, gaining 88 yards. Each of the first five completions produced first downs. The fourth completion was a nine-yard strike to
Those scores kept Indianapolis tied with Miami, 10-10, a game in which the Colts would trail again and in which they snapped a later tie to post a crucial conference victory.
For the day, Luck completed 13-of-17 third-down passes for 204 yards and one score, a 135.4 rating. Twelve of his completions produced first downs, huge factors that allowed the Colts to own the ball for 34:54 of the game.
The second step of a three-game winning streak the club currently holds came in overtime at Tennessee two weeks ago, 19-13.
Indianapolis tied the game with a late 80-yard drive, then used the extra session’s first possession to march 80 more yards in getting the victory.
Though Luck hit only one pass on the winning drive, a 20-yarder to Wayne on third-and-eight from the Tennessee 36, he had a successful day on that down, too.
Against the Titans, Luck was seven-of-nine for 81 yards. His seasonal totals now on third downs are 52-of-91 for 725 yards, with three touchdowns and interceptions.
His 80.2 third-down rating ranks ninth in the AFC, 21st in the NFL. Prior to the Tennessee and Miami games, Luck was 32-of-65 for 440 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His 62.3 rating at that point ranked 15th in the AFC, 28th in the NFL.
The recent third-down success is something Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians cites as an emphasis point.
“I thought the last two games, he’s been dynamite on third down,” said Arians. “That was one of the areas we were targeting to improve.”
Arians believes the recent success goes beyond just Luck himself, and it came against prime competition.
“You never know (why the sudden jump),” said Arians. “Those are two good defensive football teams. This one (Miami) was outstanding. Sometimes the lights just go on, and it’s the guys around him. It’s not just him, the other 10 guys out there. They’re all playing better. .. It helps the situation wholeheartedly.”
Against the Titans, five of Luck’s seven completions on third down moved the chains. The Colts converted 13-of-19 on third down against Miami and six times Indianapolis converted first downs through the air when the distance to do so was at least 10 yards (10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 20).
Reggie Wayne has been a key target on many third-down attempts, and he sees how Luck and team is growing.
“Just staying in phase,” said Wayne of Luck and the offense. “(Luck’s) doing a good job. He’s been looking the gun right down the barrel and delivering some good balls, some catchable balls. A lot of the time it’s on us (the receivers). He’s been doing his job. The rest is on us to catch the ball and get the first down.
“He’s doing a great job. He’s hanging in there even under duress. He’s moving around in the pocket. I know us Colts players and fans aren’t used to seeing that much, but he’s doing a good job of using his legs and just keeping plays alive.”
Luck is his own toughest critic. On Monday, he termed his first-half grade as a “C,” because, “I think they say ‘C’ is average, so I’d give myself a ‘C.’
“I think a perfect grade would be if you won every game, didn’t have any incompletions, no interceptions. We’ll keep working until we get to there.”
Luck says growth has occurred in his game, and he believes the first eight games have benefited his decision-making.
“I think (in) just situational football, being aware of different situations within the game – when to take a shot, when not, when to maybe throw it away,” said Luck of where he believes he has made the most progress. “That’s still something that I’ve got to get a lot better at, situational football.”
Arians is an aggressive coach who, like Luck, always looks to improve in all game areas. After giving Luck an “A” grade for the first half of the season, he pointed to another area of improvement for the team.
“We really need to improve in the red zone as an offense,” said Arians. “That’s about the only area of statistics we’re in the bottom. We need to improve that area.”