This is not a rookie seeking to hide behind excuses, in need of protection from his coaching staff or teammates. Of the many admirable traits Luck has displayed in his relatively brief time with the Colts, it is among the most remarkable for a young player.
When it comes to bearing burdens, his own or his team’s, Luck has established himself as a guy with broad shoulders.
“He’s his worst critic,” said interim coach Bruce Arians. “He even knows coming off the field before I say something to him. That’s the beauty of it, he knows when he makes a mistake, he knows why he made it and he usually doesn’t make it twice.”
Usually, but not always. In MetLife Stadium, Luck repeated some of the problems that plagued the first game of his career in Chicago – at times looking hurried, missing open receivers and ultimately committing too many turnovers.
In two road games, Luck has thrown five interceptions and lost two fumbles while posting a 51.8 passer rating as the Colts have been drubbed by a combined score of 76-30. In three home games, he has six touchdowns, two picks, no lost fumbles and a rating of 85.4 as the Colts have gone 2-1.
As he prepares for Cleveland this Sunday in the friendlier confines of Lucas Oil Stadium, Luck knows he needs to spend as much time critiquing himself as analyzing his opponent. The Browns have 10 interceptions and 15 sacks, numbers that will capture any quarterback’s attention.
“I think it’s imperative to be critical of yourself to realize when the blame is on you and figure out why I made the mistake and how I can avoid doing it next time,” Luck said. “How can I rectify it.”
When we look back on it, those two road games may well represent the low points of Luck’s rookie season, which already is looking pretty special. He is second in the NFL in attempts per game (44.2) and third in passing yards per game (297.6).
Luck is on pace to shatter rookie records for attempts (590, Sam Bradford, 2010), completions (354, Bradford) and yards (4,051, Cam Newton, 2011). He and New Orleans’ Drew Brees both are on pace to break the all-time record for attempts in a season (691, Drew Bledsoe, 1994).
Because his completion percentage (.534) is low and interceptions (seven) high, Luck’s overall passer rating is a modest 72.0, ranking 30th in the league. But by the measure of ESPN’s own QBR statistic, which includes factors for clutch performance as well as a quarterback’s ability to run, Luck ranks seventh in the league – ahead of such luminaries as Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford.
“I’m not concerned with his numbers at all,” Arians said. “I don’t get tied into his numbers, it’s more the look in his eye, how he’s playing, what he’s doing to win or lose the game than adding up the numbers. The numbers will add up at the end of the season.”
Beyond the numbers is the greater reality that Luck already has become the offense, which is both good and bad. No rookie should be asked to attempt 44 passes per game, but in the absence of anything resembling a running game, the Colts have little choice. To that end, he has been the team’s most effective runner, gaining 103 yards (most among NFL quarterbacks) and averaging 6.1 per carry.
As a reference point, Peyton Manning averaged 31.9 attempts, 208 yards and had a passer rating of 71.2 as a rookie.
“We’re asking him to do more,” Arians said. “And it’s not fair to really compare them totally all the time. … I think that makes for a good story but it’s not really fair to compare them all the time because it’s two different teams.”
It is not fair, of course, to compare a rookie with one of the all-time greats. Doing so, however, gives a fresh perspective on not only how far Luck has to go, but how far he already has come.