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COLUMN

It's scoreboard over stats for Colts' Luck

More Information

Donald Brown out for season

Colts running back Donald Brown was placed on injured reserve because of a lingering ankle injury. Backup running back Robert Hughes was also placed on injured reserve.

To make up for the losses, the Colts signed running backs Mewelde Moore, who played with the team earlier this season, and Deji Karim.

For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

He has been money on third downs and fourth quarters

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - 6:07 am

Thirty NFL quarterbacks have a better passer rating than Indianapolis Colts rookie Andrew Luck. Yes, 30.

This includes Alex Smith, who lost his job; Michael Vick, who lost his job; and two quarterbacks of the 4-9 Tennessee Titans, a team that has looked lost much of the season.

Luck is also tied for the league lead in interceptions with 18. At least the battle for most footballs thrown to the wrong team is against the great Drew Brees. On the other hand, the next closest competitors are Tony Romo (16), Philip Rivers (15) and Brandon Weeden (15). They're not popular in fantasy football.

Luck is 33rd in completion percentage, looking up at Mark Sanchez.

What's my point?

Colts fans should trust their eyes, not their statistics.

The eyes say Luck has “it” when the games are on the line, “it” being the ability to remain calm under heavy stress, hit receivers with passes where only they can catch the ball and generate a team-wide belief that no game is over until the clock hits zero.

Luck has made so many big plays in the biggest moments – albeit against some flawed competition – that he's able to overcome the mistakes and botched plays that rear their ugly head almost every game.

The good stats: The Colts are 9-4, one win away from clinching a playoff berth as they head to Houston on Sunday; Luck has led the Colts to eight wins in one-possession games; and Luck has six fourth-quarter or overtime game-winning drives, more than any rookie ever.

Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said Monday that two of the main reasons the Colts have transformed from 2-14 in 2011 to 9-4 this season are the players buying into the process – and Luck.

Don't bother Arians with the negative statistics Luck has produced. He'll take the wins and the late-game success every time. As well he should.

“I look at his last two games and in the red zone. He's 100 percent in the red zone, five-for-five,” Arians said. “His third-down efficiency in the last seven or eight weeks, he's been outstanding. So situational football is where quarterbacks win games more than anything else. Obviously. you didn't have to bring up two-minute, he's done a great job there.

“Overall, there's so many ways to rate quarterbacks now,” Arians continued. “I see one paper, he's the third or fourth quarterback in the league and the other one he's last. It's like which one do you want to use? I just know we are 9-4 because he's had a lot to do with it.”

Luck continues to impress with his manner on and off the field. He shows frustration when he makes a mistake, such as his falling forward pick-six to Tennessee's Will Witherspoon last Sunday. He overthrew Coby Fleener a couple times. He missed T.Y. Hilton on a deep pass early for a sure touchdown. Luck cringes and forgets. It's all about the next play.

Luck had a tremendous back-foot pass to Reggie Wayne when the Colts badly needed a scoring drive and he threw a perfect pass that Donnie Avery couldn't haul in for a would-be touchdowns. He also sealed the win with a gutsy pass to Dwayne Allen, his third option, on the Colts' final possession.

Still, some fans can't help but focus on Luck's relatively low passing percentage (54.9 percent; Smith, ironically, leads the league at 70 percent, followed by Peyton Manning at 68.3 percent).

Luck has completed less than 50 percent of his passes the last two games vs. Detroit and Tennessee (40 of 88).

“It's a combination of all of the above, the protection, the routes, him,” Arians said. “He got hit quite a few times in (the Tennessee game). We've got to keep him cleaner. He continues to take shots down the field when he could take some check downs. We've missed Coby two or three times when we could have taken a check down to the back. I'd like to see him just throw a better ball to Coby.”

Listening to Arians, the flaws in Luck's passing game lean most toward errors of aggression. Many of his interceptions – the Witherspoon one being most obvious – are examples of aggression gone wild. Luck hasn't learned, at least not to the fullest extent, that taking a sack is sometimes the best option.

Luck locks into receivers sometimes. Hence, the downfield passes to Fleener rather than a check down. This may be more Arians' scheme than the quarterback, but Luck doesn't use running backs as receivers as often as Manning did with Edgerrin James and Joseph Addai.

Most of the criticism of Luck, and his statistical failings, are areas that should cure themselves with more experience.

He's been outstanding on third-down passing. His best situational passer rating (97.0) is on third- or fourth-down passes with nine or more yards to go. He's completed 38 of 67 (56.7 percent) in those situations.

“Whatever that situation is, everybody on the team offensively, defensively and special teams, just plays football.” Luck said. “They're not worried about the scoreboard too much, not worried about what's going on. I think they're aware of the situation and go out there and play football to the best of our ability. I think it's just not over-thinking all of the situations at this point.”

Luck just plays football. You can use his statistics against him if you want. He'll take the scoreboard. So will Colts fans, every time.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.