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How Good is Andrew Luck
Posting this ESPNinsider article for someone, others might find it interesting. NFL - How good is Andrew Luck's start to his career? - ESPN
Comebacks thrill us. Comebacks make our hearts race. Comebacks cause us to stand up and cheer. For all that, though, comebacks do not necessarily provide an accurate measure of NFL quarterback quality. Just ask Tim Tebow, who led five comebacks in 2011, only to find himself a backup on one of the league's worst offenses in 2012. After all, to come back at the end of a game, you must first play badly enough to fall behind. On the other side of the coin, you have a guy like Matt Schaub. The Houston Texans quarterback has put together an 11-3 record as a starter the past two seasons, but has no comebacks in that time because he has provided his team with so many early leads.
With that in mind, what can we make of Andrew Luck and his big comeback that led the Indianapolis Colts to a 30-27 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday? On one hand, we must credit him for 31 completions, 362 yards, 16 first downs and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing). On the other hand, we can't ignore his 24 incompletions, his four sacks taken, his interception or his fumble.
The fact is, Luck made a lot of good plays Sunday, but also many bad plays. He dropped back 30 times in the first half and produced only 157 net yards and five first downs. He was one of the biggest reasons the Colts fell behind in the first place. And though Luck had 11 first downs after halftime, including all three touchdowns, we can't forget that even during the comeback he had his struggles. He threw his interception while driving for a potential go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, and he also threw two incompletions as part of a three-and-out drive deep in Indianapolis territory that provided the Packers with excellent field position to set up a go-ahead score of their own.
Honestly, the Indianapolis defense deserves as much credit for the comeback as Luck does. The Colts D let the Packers take the lead on a touchdown drive that started in Indianapolis territory, but Green Bay's seven other second-half drives resulted in four punts, two missed field goals and an interception.
Despite his big comeback, Luck barely makes Football Outsiders' top 10 quarterbacks this week, and actually falls slightly short of his Green Bay counterpart, Aaron Rodgers. Remember too that these numbers account for the quality of defense faced. If we ignore that, Rodgers comes out way ahead of Luck.
First- or second-year starting rookie QBs by DVOA
Still, while it wasn't a great game for Luck, it was a good one, and that's getting to be routine for the rookie. His first game against Chicago was slightly below replacement level, but he has been well above that line every week since. He passed fellow rookie Robert Griffin III in passing DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, explained here) this week and ranks 14th out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks. One month into his career, he is playing like an average starting passer, and has been much better than experienced veterans like Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler and Tony Romo.
Is this performance unusual? Yes, but it's not unprecedented. The table on the right shows a semi-complete list of the top quarterbacks as measured by DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) in the first four starts of their career before this season. This includes passing only, not rushing. It only includes players who were starting in their first or second season, so there's no Rodgers, Kurt Warner or Rivers. It also omits passers whose first four starts were not consecutive, which eliminates Michael Vick, Cade McNown and Steve McNair. Below them is a list of the five rookie quarterbacks who are starting this season, along with their DVOA figures:
(Note: Griffin ranks ahead of Luck in DVOA but not DYAR because DVOA is a rate stat, like completion percentage, while DYAR is a counting stat, like yards, and Luck has dropped back 31 more times than Griffin this season.)
Four games is an awfully small sample size for projecting a player's career, but those quarterbacks who have made the strongest first impressions have usually held up over the long haul. Matt Leinart flamed out quickly, and Cam Newton is regressing in his second season, but the other names on this list proved to be quality starters for the better part of a decade or more. That's good news for Griffin, Luck and even Ryan Tannehill. It's bad news for Russell Wilson and Brandon Weeden. Then again, Peyton Manning's DVOA after four starts was minus-20.0 percent, and he turned out OK in the long run.
WEEK 5 DYAR BEST AND WORST
DYAR is Football Outsiders' proprietary metric that measures performance on every play against expected performance for that situation. For a deeper explanation and a full breakdown of the numbers, visit Football Outsiders.
QB | RB | WR/TE
Obviously, it's far too early to project what Luck is going to do over the next 10 years. What we can say now is that he's definitely ahead of the curve for quarterbacks at this stage of his career, and that the Luck-versus-Griffin race for rookie of the year is going to rage for 16 games.
Three surprising players
QB: Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Smith completed 18 of 24 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns against Buffalo, with no sacks or interceptions. It was the third 300-yard game of his career and the third time he has thrown for three scores without a turnover. Plus, he set career highs with 12.6 yards per pass and a near-perfect QBR of 99.2. At various times against Buffalo, Smith completed four passes in a row for 85 yards, four passes in a row for 95 yards, three passes in a row for 29 yards, and five passes in a row for 80 yards.
RB: Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
Ridley's day against Denver was mildly surprising (28 carries for 151 yards), but not as surprising as the polar shift in football philosophy that has overcome the New England offense. The Patriots lead the league with 185 rushes. They were 17th in that category in 2011, though that was something of a fluke. Before that, they had ranked in the top 10 for five years in a row. Ridley was a model of consistency Sunday, with only one run going for fewer than 2 yards, and 12 runs of 5 yards or more.
WR/TE: Reggie Wayne, Colts
When Wayne re-signed with Indianapolis this offseason, it seemed an odd match for both player and team. The Colts figured to get more benefit by finding a younger receiver to be the Marvin Harrison or, well, Wayne to Luck's Manning, while Wayne's best shot at landing another Super Bowl ring in the twilight of his career seemed to be elsewhere. Wayne decided to stick around, though, and it's hard to imagine where Indianapolis would be without him. He leads the club with 36 catches and 506 yards; no other player on the team has even half that total in either category. Wayne caught 13 passes in 20 targets for 212 yards against Green Bay, a personal best for yardage. Like his quarterback, Wayne got off to something of a slow start, but finished strong. Each of the last five passes thrown to him was caught for a first down -- one for a touchdown -- for a total of 64 yards.