These last four weeks have been whiteknuckle times for the coaches, executives and coordinators of underperforming football teams. In 2015, owners have not been the least bit fearful of blowing up the operation mid-season and getting a jump on what's to come. The Lions, in firing their general manager and team president after firing their offensive coordinator the week before, have served as the most extreme example.
The Indianapolis Coltslet go of their offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton, though the pitchforks haven't been put away yet. With Andrew Luck underperforming on a massive scale, the prevailing thought is that general manager Ryan Grigson's inability to put an offensive line in front of Luck should also place him on the chopping block.
Here's part of a column from the Indianapolis Star earlier this week:
When the nuclear winter comes, Ryan Grigson will survive it. That's all I'm saying."
Grigson, we're sure, would admit to some mistakes in creating this roster. But because his association with the offensive line seems to be the most consistent complaint, we decided to take a deeper look into just who Andrew Luck is playing behind.
A note: If you're not open to hearing that this unit is not as bad as people think, this is the right time to exit the page.
And we're not the only ones who think this way. According to Pro Football Focus, Luck is given the fourth-most time of any quarterback in the NFL to throw the football, but takes the third longest of any quarterback to get rid of the ball.
Luck has been sacked 14 times (Matt Hasselbeck another three times), which puts Indianapolis smack dab in the middle of all NFL teams, and really, since they've had to throw the ball a lot, the number is probably skewed a bit.
Not that bad, right?
In attempt to validate these claims, we went back and looked at nearly every ball Luck threw this season. Here are some of our main takeaways:
Penalties. If you want to fault the offensive line for something, fault them for penalties. This was especially visible in the Jets game Week 2, where several big runs were called back due to holding calls (although two were by tight ends). Even though holding calls are suspect and inconsistent across the board -- during the Jets game, Jon Gruden actually made note of some eye-rolling penalties called against Indianapolis -- it's directly reflected on the individual. Fair enough.
Play calling. The Colts just made a change at coordinator, so now is not the time to kick an unemployed coach while he's down. But I was surprised to see a lack of modified short drops and an insistence on the traditional three and five-step drops throughout a majority of the season. With the Bradys and Rodgers and Mannings of the world, there are a lot of counter-measures and quick audibles off the snap to negate some of the pressure.
In addition, there have been a lot of third and long situations, and plenty of calls made well before the first-down marker. Though it's a common formation, it almost seemed like the Saints were mocking the Colts in Indianapolis two weeks ago when they lined up four lineman then stretched seven defensive backs and safeties across the first down marker.
There was also the punt, lest we forget.
Luck himself. We know Luck is hurting. This is not meant to bury a truly great quarterback. He would not have missed two games if he wasn't in pain. In watching all of his throws, it's clear the snap and torque from a year ago are still a ways away, and it may not get any better this season. This has caused a few ancillary issues. Plenty of analysts have noticed the hesitation and the way he's missed a few open receivers. Luck was always a risk taker, but it's difficult to do so without supreme confidence and health.
One of our resident scouts, Daniel Jeremiah, also noted that this year Luck is hitching four or five times at the top of his drop, which means he's passing off easy completions.
Added Bucky Brooks: "He's had a number of interceptions because he's just not patient. He's always trying to push the envelope. He wants to push the ball down the field and he hasn't learned to master the checkdown. Use the checkdown ... eventually get back up to take in the vertical, but because he forces the ball into traffic, tips and overthrows lead to interceptions."
Would Anthony Castonzo admit he had a bad game against Cam Jordan? Probably. Could they have done a better job with blitz pick up against the Jets? Yes. But some of these issues are technique oriented, not talent oriented. Some of them are schematic, and the Colts have already made a change on that front.
Blame obviously goes across the board here, but is it fair to saddle Luck's issues on the offensive line? We don't think so. Just like it's not fair to blame Luck when the rest of the team seems to come out flat, or when the defense gives up more yards than all but three teams in the NFL?
Yes, pitchfork season came early this year, but sometimes there's a virtue in letting the process play out first.