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NFL Playbook: Andrew Luck Made Some Big Throws on Sunday

by Photo of Taylor Armosino

After a shaky first week, Andrew Luck grew up on Sunday against the Vikings.

NFL Playbook: Andrew Luck Made Some Big Throws on Sunday

When the Indianapolis Colts let Peyton Manning's surgically repaired neck hit the open market, they ushered in a new era. The Andrew Luck era. Make no mistake, the Colts are rebuilding around the first pick in last years draft. They're currently limited in talent, but with Luck at the helm the future looks bright. 

In week one against the Bears, the Colts looked like a rebuilding team. Andrew Luck looked like a rookie quarterback on a rebuilding team. Luck had an up and down performance in a 41-21 loss, throwing 3 interceptions. In week two against the Minnesota Vikings, Luck was much better. The Stanford product was an efficient 20/31 with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Indianapolis won the game 23-20.

Luck really impressed me on Sunday. He showed great poise and delivered many crisp passes on the afternoon. However, there were two throws in particular that really stood out to me and I'm going to break them down.

The first throw came on a Colts 2nd and 12 play on Minnesota's 44 yard line. Luck came off a play action fake and hit receiver Donnie Avery down the sideline for a 41 yard gain.          

The Colts motion into an "Ace" look, with two tight ends (highlighted in black). On the play, Indianapolis uses what is called a "Play Action" pass. "Play Action" is when the quarterback and the offense fake a running play and then throw the ball. Indianapolis runs a two man route, meaning they have only two receivers going out for passes. Both tight ends are blocking on the play. At the top of the screen, receiver Reggie Wayne (yellow) is running a deep cross. Receiver Donnie Avery (red) at the bottom of the screen is running a deep "corner" pattern towards the sideline.         

Minnesota plays man coverage with a single high safety and two blitzing linebackers. The man coverage is drawn in yellow with the single high safety, Harrison Smith, highlighted in blue. The blitzing linebackers are highlighted in red.         

The Colts do a great job in the play action. Luck gives a great fake to the halfback which crowds the Viking defense towards the line of scrimmage, opening up the middle of the field for the Colt receivers.         

Indianapolis' offensive line does an excellent job of giving Luck a clean pocket on the play. The Vikings get no pass rush and Luck has all the space he needs to operate inside the pocket.         

The key to this play is when Vikings safety Harrison Smith (blue) doubles down onto Reggie Wayne (yellow) running a crossing route. When Smith runs to Wayne, it leaves Donnie Avery (red) running a corner one on one with a slower cornerback in Antoine Winfield.

As Avery runs downfield, Winfield loses ground. Nonetheless, the throw Luck has to make is one that is not easy. The Colts quarterback has to put the ball over Winfield and give Avery enough space between him and the sideline to pull in the pass. Not to mention it is a 40 yard throw. Luck shows off a big arm and pinpoint accuracy and makes a big time NFL throw. 

Our second play came late in the second quarter of Sunday's game. The Colts had a 3rd and 3 at the Vikings 30 yard line. Luck operated in the shotgun formation and hit Reggie Wayne down the middle of the field for a big touchdown pass.        

The Colts come out with Luck in the shotgun with a tight end and two receivers out to his right with a running back on his left and a split out receiver to his left. Indianapolis goes for the end zone on the play, as there are only 14 seconds left on the clock before halftime. The two outside receivers, highlighted in yellow, both run streaks down the field. Reggie Wayne in the slot, highlighted in red, is running a seam route down the middle of the field. The tight end and half back (both highlighted in black) stay in to block on the play. Notice a trend here? In both plays, Indianapolis has kept in extra blockers. I applaud offensive coordinator Bruce Arians in realizing the Colts have a poor offensive line. Arians gives Luck an opportunity to succeed by making sure he's not getting leveled on every play. 

Minnesota is playing a "Tampa Two" defense. It is like a normal "Cover Two" with two safeties deep, but with a wrinkle. Created by Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay (hence the term "Tampa Two"), the "Tampa Two" is a defense where a linebacker runs down the seam inbetween the two safeties and plays like a safety. As you can see in the diagram below, Minnesota is running this defense. The safeties are highlighted in red, with linebacker Erin Henderson highlighted in blue. Henderson is the man who will be running down the seam in this "Tampa Two" defense. As in any other "Cover Two" defense, the rest of the cornerbacks/linebackers cover the underneath area of the field, highlighted in yellow. 

 **In an unrelated note, this defense was originally employed by Chuck Noll and the 70's Steelers. Tony Dungy played for Knoll in the 70's where he picked up on this defense. Why it is not called the "Steeler Two" rather than the "Tampa Two", I do not know**       

What makes this play unique is Luck's pocket presence on the play. Despite their extra blockers, the Colts still allow Minnesota to get pressure on the quarterback. Both of Minnesota's defensive tackles (yellow) get pressure up the middle forcing Luck to move to his right. What impresses me is the veteran poise that Luck shows. The instinct of most young quarterbacks, and even some veteran quarterbacks, is to take off and run when pressured. Luck, showing poise of a quarterback beyond his years, keeps his eyes down field and moves slightly to his right.       

Luck gets to a point where he can set his feet and get off an accurate throw. Luck showcases excellent fundamentals and foot speed to be able to keep his eyes downfield, set his feet quickly and get the ball out accurately. He knows he is going to get hit, but he still steps into his throw and delivers a crisp pass. Again, this is an incredibly impressive play for any quarterback, much less a rookie playing in his second regular season game.       

Because he keeps his eyes down field, Luck is able to anticipate when Wayne (yellow) is going to make his break. He can see that Henderson (blue) plays too shallow while the two safeties are held at bay by the streak routes being run by the outside receivers. However, this is another big time throw by Luck. As can be seen in the photo below, Luck has to fit the ball over Henderson and inbetween the safeties (red). The Colts quarterback makes another big time NFL throw and hits Wayne (yellow) down the seam for a Colts touchdown.

Around draft time, Andrew Luck was proclaimed by many experts to be "the best quarterback prospect since John Elway". After his performance Sunday, you can see exactly what the experts saw. Luck's poise and pocket presence far surpass his young age and limited experience as an NFL quarterback. The Colts quarterback made considerable strides from week one to week two, which is always a positive sign in young quarterbacks. Andrew Luck made some huge throws on Sunday and led his team to that all important first victory of the season. 


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