Andrew Luck is carrying the Colts on his back. For real.
Frequently when a team wins with a new QB at the helm, the QB gets an inordinate amount of credit when in reality, the rest of the team played a large role while the QB was just one of several factors.
But right now the Indianapolis Colts, with rookie and #1 draft pick Andrew Luck at QB, sit at 6-3. The year before the Colts finished a disastrous 2-14 following the loss of franchise QB Peyton Manning, a loss that starkly illustrated how well Manning’s play had disguised the Colts’ numerous weaknesses once Manning wasn’t there to carry the team on his back.
Without Manning the Colts were 27th in offensive efficiency according to Football Outsiders, 27th with the pass and 22nd with the run. The defense was a fairly crappy 23rd, and the Colts finished a fairly crappy 2-14, putting head coach Jim Caldwell’s standing in suitably crappy condition to get fired after the season.
With much of the same personnel in 2012, the Colts have improved under Luck. The offense efficiency is now 15th, in large part thanks to the passing game under Luck. The yards per play improved from a 4th worst 4.8 ypp in 2011 to a league average 5.5 in 2012. The team rebounded from the 2nd worst first downs (252 in 16 games) to the 2nd most 1st downs as of today (213 in 9 games). Over 2/3 of those 1st downs have come via the pass (128 passing 1sts, 60 rushing 1sts).
This improvement on offense comes despite a useful but inefficient running game (985 total yards, 13th best, but a mediocre 3.9 ypg, 19th best). Luck has had to throw an average of 40 passes per game, and hasn’t been Drew Brees level efficient (57.5% completion rate, 10 TDs to 9 INT and an okay-ish 79.1 QB rating), but has average 292 yards per game and has led two 4th quarter comebacks for the Colts this season.
Far and away his leading receiver is career Colt Reggie Wayne, who had a trio of 100 catch seasons under Peyton Manning but, coming off a 75 catch campaign in 2011, already has 69 through 9 games, is averaging a career high 103 yards per game and is on pace for a career high 123 catches. Journeyman Donnie Avery (38 catches) is on track for his best season yet, plus rookies Dwayne Allen (25 catches) and T.Y. Hilton (24 catches) have contributed as well. Save for Wayne (and again he wasn’t a game changer last year during the 2-14 campaign), I wouldn’t call any of those players an equal or greater catalyst to the Colts’ turnaround than Andrew Luck.
Oh, and the defense? Football Outsiders not only shows that they’ve regressed, but by defensive efficiency they are actually the worst defense in the NFL. Even by more conventional stats the Colts defense is still a liability, 18th best in yards allowed and allowing a fairly awful 4.7 yards per gain on the ground (29th best).
So with much of the same personnel on both sides of the ball except for a couple of halfway decent 3rd round picks at receiver, AND with coach Chuck Pagano on hiatus to battle cancer, AND with a mediocre running game that’s forced the passing game to win games by itself, AND with an even worse defense than last year’s 2-14 team… Andrew Luck has led the Colts to a 6-3 record.
It looks like the Colts have found their franchise QB. Just wait until they build a better team around him. Like Peyton Manning did before him, Andrew Luck may lead an NFL dynasty in Indianapolis for years to come.