Most rookie quarterbacks are eager to get the ball out of their hands and throw safe, check-down passes.
Andrew Luck is nothing like an average rookie.
The No. 1 overall draft choice for the Indianapolis Colts enters Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills leading the NFL in the number of passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield, and he has the most completions of 20 or more yards in the league.
“He’s looking for the big play,” said Bills safety George Wilson. “He keeps his eyes and his vision downfield, even when he’s on the move outside the pocket, when he has to step up into the pocket. He definitely is not looking for the check down.”
“He just gets it,” said Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. “It’s hard to describe as a coach. When you have one that gets it, you know you’ve got a jewel.”
Luck might actually be exceeding expectations this year, which is a hard to believe given he arguably was the most highly rated quarterback to come out of college in the past decade.
The Colts stand 6-4, the best winning percentage ever through 10 games for a quarterback taken No. 1 overall in his rookie season. Luck has five 300-yard games, an NFL rookie record. He passed for 433 yards in a win over Miami three weeks ago, another NFL rookie record. He ranks seventh in the NFL in passing yards and is on pace for a rookie record of 4,744 yards for the season.
Few players have been as well prepared to succeed right away as the 6-foot-4, 234-pound Luck. His father, Oliver, played quarterback for the Houston Oilers for four seasons in the early 1980s.
Asked the best football lesson his father taught him, Luck said: “I remember he told me a long time ago that film is never as good as you think, and it will be never as bad as you think when you’re watching after games or practice.”
Luck got great tutoring at Stanford, playing for former NFL quarterback and current San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh.
“One of the many great things about coach Harbaugh is he made everything competitive,” Luck said. “There was something at stake with everything. It trained us at Stanford that to be a competitive football team, you have to be competing in practice and whatever arena you may be in.”
Arians said that elite tutoring has allowed Luck to attack defenses aggressively, and Arians’ offense is more geared to stretching the field vertically than some in the NFL.
“He’s been coached extremely well in college,” Arians said. “We’re not a West Coast offense by any means. But (Stanford) Coach (David) Shaw and Coach Harbaugh did a great job with him out there.”
Luck is the fourth first-round QB Arians has coached. Arians was QB coach for Peyton Manning his first three seasons in Indianapolis. Then Arians coached Tim Couch in Cleveland. The previous eight years he coached Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.
“He’s a combination of all the guys,” Arians said of Luck. “He’s as tough as Timmy Couch, and as athletic as Ben, and as cerebral as Peyton. He’s got the whole package. He’s more athletic than most people thought, like Ben. But he really is a gym rat and loves the game.”
“I always called Peyton a Piranha. You couldn’t feed him enough information, and Andrew’s the same way. He’s here on Tuesdays, and you gotta kick him out of the building. . . . All of them have the same trait – fierce, fierce competitors.”
Because Arians has brought a Pittsburgh-style offense to the Colts, he had Luck watch extensive tape of Roethlisberger during the summer. Both Luck and Roethlisberger are tall in the pocket and tough to bring to the ground.
“I think it helped him a bunch when we installed the offense and he was able to watch six years of cut-ups and games and different situations that Ben was put in,” Arians said. “He also learned some things – when to throw the daggone thing away. But he still fights that part, just like the (Roethlisberger) fought me all the time. There’s a time to give up on a play. He’s athletic and he’s really tough. I think that’s a great attribute in both those guys.”
Luck’s passes have traveled an average of 10.3 yards downfield, farthest in the league, according to ESPN statistics. He has hit 17 of 49 passes that have traveled 20 or more yards downfield for a total of 551 yards. Only Baltimore’s Joe Flacco has more yards on such passes (555).
Luck is coming off a three-interception game in the Colts’ 59-24 loss at New England last week.
“Obviously I was disappointed in myself after the game,” Luck said. “But once you start watching the film, you try to set feelings aside and learn from the mistakes. And it doesn’t count for five losses or four losses, it just counts as one. We got beat by a better team that day.”
“Even in that game, a game with the turnovers and whatever else happened, you could tell he was very impressive,” said Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. “You already see guys looking up to him as a leader and following him with his demeanor. That is the kind of stuff when I am looking at a quarterback that is impressive to me.”