INDIANAPOLIS — Oftentimes Indianapolis Colts fans hear throughout the year the importance of protecting quarterback Andrew Luck.
And while the claim certainly seems obvious — why wouldn't you want to keep your quarterback's jersey clean? — sometimes the exact science behind it can get lost in translation.
So here it is for you, real simple: when he has time to throw the ball, Luck is one of the top three or four quarterbacks in the National Football League. And even when he doesn't have all the time back there, his skills and pure athleticism can sometimes make up for any sort of mistakes up front by his blockers.
This was certainly evident in the 2016 season, which perhaps was Luck's best overall performance of his career. While he had thrown for more yards and touchdowns and had an overall higher rating in 2014, Luck's completion percentage in 2016 was his best by far, and he was oftentimes relied upon to make plays under much more duress the first half or so of the season, when he was the most-pressured quarterback in the league.
And, as we found out this offseason, Luck's performance in 2016 was even more impressive considering he was battling an injury to his throwing shoulder the entire year that finally required surgery in January.
Pro Football Focus recently broke down the numbers on Luck's 2016 season, comparing a couple different stats when he was under pressure compared to when he was kept clean. Here's the graphic:
The Colts, of course, were already well aware of these numbers. Despite some injury issues along the offensive line throughout the year, the big guys up front really seemed to gel as a unit the second half of the 2016 season, a timeframe in which they were in the Top 10 in fewest sacks allowed.
Now returning with plenty of experience on the left side (tackle Anthony Castonzo and Jack Mewhort), a Pro Bowl-caliber center entering just his second season (Ryan Kelly), and, as it seems for now, two talented youngsters (guard Joe Haeg and tackle Le'Raven Clark) among the favorites slated to battle it out on the right side, Indianapolis hopes to put the "we need to keep Luck clean" narrative to rest for good in 2017 and moving forward.
"We have some guys I thought that came a long way last year and made significant strides and improvements," Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. "But as I've said before out here, what was understandable yet not acceptable last season is not going to be understandable this season. As guys grow, and you expect that kind of growth and improvement out of them as time goes and who grows and who improves the most and how it all plays out in the spring. We'll get our chance to find out whether we're ready to go or not and I expect us to be ready to go."
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