Andrew Luck was simply outstanding against the Bengals on Sunday. This might have been the best game he’s played as an NFL quarterback. He only threw one touchdown, but he did everything from the subtle to the phenomenal that a quarterback needs to do to be successful in this league. He hit on several big plays, and in between those, he kept the chains moving with short passes that sustained the offense.
Let’s start with the downfield accuracy. Luck delivered several perfectly placed downfield passes against the Bengals. One was a back-shoulder throw to T.Y. Hilton that should have been a touchdown. The next was a corner route after Luck had shuffled in the pocket to buy time. Hilton dropped both. This didn’t stop the Colts offense though as Luck connected on several other accurate downfield throws. The final score could have been a lot worse for the Bengals defense.
Luck’s footwork and movement were tremendous. When the Bengals played man-free on a 3rd-and-3 in the first quarter, Luck scrambled for 18 yards after Cincy defenders turned their backs to him. On a 3rd-and-7 before their first touchdown, Luck again displayed great footwork. He calmly looked right, saw his receivers weren’t open, then calmly looked over the middle, his feet moving with his eyes, and found tight end Dwayne Allen for 8 yards and a first down. The next play was a touchdown. This was subtle, professional quarterbacking at its finest.
On his 36-yard touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief, Luck was more phenomenal then subtle. He bought time with his legs, avoided pressure, and used his strong body to fight through contact and deliver a perfect ball downfield as a defender clung to his ankles.
But the one pass that perfectly showcased all of Luck’s attributes came on a 3rd-and-3 in the 3rd quarter. Here, the Bengals brought a blitz and played man free behind it as you can see below.
Luck recognized the blitz and the coverage. Because of the blitz and because his inside receiver was running a deep over route through the middle of the field, no defenders could undercut T.Y. Hilton’s route on the outside.
Luck knew this. He also knew he couldn’t hold the ball for long and stay in the same place because of pressure coming fast from his right.
Luck felt the pressure and subtly moved off the hash mark to his left to buy a fraction of a second more time.
You can see here that Luck would not have been able to deliver the ball if he had stayed on the hash mark, now occupied by the rushing defensive end. Luck also knew that he had to get rid of the ball earlier than he wanted to because of the blitzing defender in his face.
Luck had to throw with anticipation. As we go back to the sideline angle, you can see that when Luck is already in his motion, T.Y. Hilton has not yet turned around.
So Luck put a little touch on the ball. He did this knowing that no defenders could undercut the throw because he understood the coverage. He also did this to give his receiver time to react to the ball in the air once he turned around. The result was a 14-yard gain and a first down.
This play incorporated just about every skill needed to be a successful quarterback – anticipation, touch, accuracy, coverage recognition and subtle pocket movement.
Andrew Luck gave a near-perfect performance last Sunday to advance his team to the Divisional round. He’ll need to have a similar type of game for the Colts to escape Denver with a win.