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He may be the NFL's next great quarterback, but anyone claiming Luck is already among the best of the best hasn't been watching closely enough

By Greg A. Bedard
October 27, 2014

It has been repeated so many times that it’s almost taken as gospel: Andrew Luck is the NFL’s next great quarterback. Many think he’s already there. But here’s a little secret that you won’t hear: He’s not great yet.

In fact, you could make the case that Luck makes about two or three huge mental errors each game that make you say, “What was he thinking?” For some reason, Luck gets a pass on these. If it were any other No. 1 pick, you’d hear increasing chatter about how Luck will make a big mistake if you let him.

Sunday’s 51-34 loss to the Steelers was just the latest example. It will be glossed over because (a) The Colts wouldn’t have been competitive without Luck’s heroics, and (b) The Colts’ defense was roadkill, but Indianapolis’ first two drives ended on poor third-down passes from Luck to Hakeem Nicks. And then, trailing 14-3 early in the second quarter, Luck made what he later admitted was a “stupid” play when he stared down (a very bad habit of his) Nicks, making for William Gay’s easy pick six and a 21-3 Pittsburgh lead.

Some will pin the blame on the Colts’ below average offensive line, but according to ProFootballFocus.com, Luck was pressured 15 times in 58 dropbacks (25.8 percent) on Sunday. That isn’t great, but it’s acceptable if you’re a pocket quarterback. For a mobile passer like Luck, that’s a normal day at the office.

To Luck’s credit, he never stops fighting and his touchdown pass to Dwayne Allen on the next series was just superb. And Luck has many more of those superb plays than the boneheaded ones. He’s big, strong, mobile, ultracompetitive and can make throws that guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees can only dream about. Luck is that talented, no question. Aaron Rodgers is probably the only quarterback that approaches Luck in terms of the total talent package.

Then you get plays like the butt safety—with the Colts down 42-34 and 12:35 to play and it didn’t look like he tripped over anything but his own feet—and it doesn’t compute. Those plays happen more with Luck than anyone wants to admit.

Against the Broncos earlier this season, Luck threw high and incomplete on third-and-1 to halt the opening series. On the second series, he had a clean pocket and threw high to Allen and was intercepted. Down 17-0, he was sacked after 3.3 seconds (plenty of time) and the Colts wound up trailing 24-0 before losing by a respectable score of 31-24, but it wasn’t that close.

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Hosting the Eagles in Week 2, the Colts led 20-6 midway through the third quarter. Still leading 27-20 with the ball deep in Eagles territory and 5:08 left, receiver T.Y. Hilton fell down and Luck was intercepted. Luck stared down Hilton so long that the pass still might have been intercepted had Hilton kept his feet. The safety came from 10 yards behind the play to jump the route.

Tied at 27 with 2:12 to go on third-and-5, Luck wouldn’t pull the trigger to Nicks, held the ball and was hit as he threw incomplete. The Eagles got the ball, kicked a field goal and won 30-27.

Luck was terrific beating Jacksonville and Tennessee by a combined score of 85-34. Weeeeeeee!

With a 3-0 lead against the Ravens, on a second-and-14, Luck held the ball, didn’t see a late linebacker blitz and was drilled as he was intercepted by Haloti Ngata. With 1:10 left in the first quarter, Luck threw deep into double coverage and was lucky not to be intercepted. Leading 13-3, Luck stared down his receiver and was nearly intercepted by Lardarius Webb. Still leading 13-3 with the ball on the Baltimore 10 and 1:11 left in the third quarter, Luck had plenty of time to throw, didn’t initially hit Ahmad Bradshaw open in the flat, ran into pressure, threw into coverage and was intercepted. The Colts wound up winning 20-13.

Against the Texans on Thursday night football, Luck threw a tipped interception while playing with a 24-7 lead. With 10:45 remaining and leading 33-21, Luck called for the silent shotgun snap, didn’t initially get it, dropped his hand, and then center Jonotthan Harrison hit him right in the chest with the snap. Luck didn’t catch it, and J.J. Watt returned it for a touchdown. With a chance to cement the game leading 33-28 with 8:25 left on a third-and-9, Luck had Reggie Wayne wide open on a deep crossing route. Luck threw low and Wayne couldn’t make the diving catch. The Colts survived 33-28 in a game that shouldn’t have been that close.

Despite beating the Bengals 27-0, Luck still had his lulls. On the final play of the second drive, Luck threw a hospital ball to Wayne over the middle that fell incomplete (Wayne’s ACL tear, you might remember, happened because of a poor low throw from Luck last season). On second-and-goal with 1:54 left in a scoreless first quarter, Luck got tunnel vision again and completely missed a wide-open Bradshaw in the right flat for a walk-in touchdown. And leading 10-0 with 1:14 remaining in the first half, Luck threw way wide of Coby Fleener, who didn’t have a defender within 12 yards of him.

Go back to the playoff loss to the Patriots last year. On the third play of the game, Luck stared down LaVon Brazill, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard jumped the route and returned it to the 2-yard line to set up a Patriots touchdown. Down 21-12 before halftime, Luck threw behind fullback Stanley Havili and it went off his shoulder for an interception. Down 36-22 with 12:55 remaining, Luck threw a mindless interception into triple coverage, pulled in by linebacker Jamie Collins.

In the eventual playoff win over the Chiefs, the Colts were down 24-7 at home when Luck was nearly intercepted in the red zone on a third-down pass to Brazill. Trailing 31-10 with 33 seconds left before halftime, Luck was intercepted when he stared down Hilton. And on Luck’s first pass of the second half, he stared down Donald Brown and was intercepted.

Of course, Luck threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns as he rallied the Colts from a 38-10 deficit to win 45-44, so not many remember the three interceptions that put Indianapolis in that hole. Luck is certainly one of those quarterbacks who plays his best when the odds are at their worst. That’s a testament to his potential greatness. There’s no question that it’s there. You can find multiple examples of it in every game. Luck makes a handful of breathtaking throws every week.

But until he performs better and smarter, especially early in games and against top opponents, no one should be anointing him a great anything quite yet. This is his third year in the league, and he has started 40 games. Instead of saying how great Luck is, people should be asking why he hasn’t been better. If the Colts are to take the next step this season, he needs to be.

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