INDIANAPOLIS — It was fitting that Pro Football Focus would give Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck his highest grade of the season on Saturday against the Houston Texans, because it may have been his most cerebral playoff performance to date.
The Colts got a 21-0 jump on the Texans in the first half, ultimately claiming victory, 21-7. Luck and his pass-catchers were picking up chunks of yardage at will, and running back Marlon Mack was doing his own gashing of the Houston front in between.
The Colts defense did just as outstanding of a job throughout the game as the offense, but PFF's grades really put the spotlight on the offense, as four Colts offensive players ranked in the top three of their positions.
Quarterback No. 1 (93.2), 72 snaps (100 percent)
PFF included Luck among their 10 Wild Card Weekend Standouts as he earned a higher grade than any other offensive or defensive player in the playoffs. Per PFF:
"Key Signature Stat: 9-of-14 for 165 yards on passes targeted 10 yards or further downfield.
PFF's Comeback Player of the Year had his highest graded game of the season on Saturday, finishing with an elite 93.2 overall grade. Luck put on a clinic in the first half that effectively put the game out of reach for the hosting Texans.
Luck was effective looking down the field all afternoon with 78.8% of his total yardage coming as 'air yards' rather than yards after the catch."
The Colts passing game slowed down a bit in the second half as running back Marlon Mack dominated on the ground, but Luck was able to do some damage with his legs as well as he carried the ball four times for 29 yards (before three kneel-downs to end the game).
In total, Luck went 19-of-32 passing (59.4 percent) for 222 yards, two touchdowns, one interception (a batted pass at the line) for a passer rating of 88.3.
Wide Receiver No. 2 (86.2), 57 snaps (78 percent)
When you show up to the game like this, you've got to go off, right?
The Colts got Hilton involved early and often against the Texans — racking up three catches for 63 yards on the opening drive — and it was their intention to do so.
"You know, we always think about trying to get T.Y. the ball early, when we can," Colts head coach Frank Reich said Monday night in his weekly appearance on "Colts Roundtable Live" on 1070 The Fan. "There's a lot of things that go into how the first plays get scripted, but certainly one of the thoughts every week is, 'Hey, how do we get it to T.Y.?'"
"And this week in particular, given everything that was going on and the chatter back and forth, to get T.Y. going early, we thought, was pretty important."
The "chatter back and forth" that Reich spoke of was that of Hilton and Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph leading up the game. Hilton had joked that Houston was his second home, as he averages more than 125 yards per game there, and Joseph commented that remarks like that are "for clowns."
Five catches — each of which resulted in a first down — for 85 yards later, and the clown gets the victory.
Offensive Guard No. 1 (71.4), 72 snaps (100 percent)
Nelson received plenty of recognition for a performance that saw him occasionally manhandle the likes of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney; two players who most consider to be elite talents and not likely to be manhandled.
The Colts' offensive line once again had a tremendous performance, not allowing Luck to be sacked and rushing for another 200-yard game. Individually, Nelson was only docked for allowing one pressure the whole game.
Tight End No. 3 (68.7), 36 snaps (49 percent)
Ebron had some big catches for Luck and the Colts on Saturday, but his first of the day resulted in his 15th touchdown of the season and it put the Colts on the board with a lead they would not relinquish.
In total, Ebron caught three passes for 26 yards, the other two receptions both going for first downs. He also nearly came down with what would have been a 36-yard catch deep down the left sideline, but he was just barely unable to get his second foot down in bounds. The catch would have put the Colts at the Texans' 5-yard line with 10 seconds left in the first half, allowing them to attempt a decisive blow before the half.
It's no surprise that Ebron would show up for the Colts yet again on a big stage. The Pro Bowl tight end had a little extra motivation heading into this matchup after his son was born in Houston earlier in the week: