Andrew Luck celebrates a successful handoff (USAT)
Andrew Luck sure looks like an improved player in 2013. He's bumped his completion percentage by 10 percent, his rating has spiked, the YPA is slightly better. He's only thrown two interceptions. The Colts have to be pleased with the growth of their franchise player.
But that's all real-world stuff. Heads up in the fake-football world, where Luck's value could easily crash.
Luck had a terrific fantasy set-up as a rookie, just about the perfect context. The Colts had a lousy defense and no running game, which meant Luck had to carry the offense on a weekly basis. He threw a whopping 627 passes (fifth in the league) and collected 4,374 yards (seventh in the league). Volume is your best friend in fantasy football.
The Colts have made several improvements to the team in 2013. The defense is notably better through four weeks, both against the run and against the pass. Indy allowed 5.1 yards per carry in 2012; it's down to 4.2 this fall. Opposing QBs enjoyed a 90.1 rating versus the horseshoes a year ago; now it's at 65.8.
Upgrades were also made on the other side of the ball. Indy's offensive line was a mess in 2012: Pro Football Focus ranked it 24th in run blocking and 31st in pass blocking. This year it's 11th by ground, 21st by air. Last year's Colts averaged 3.8 yards a carry; this year it's at 4.9 (no thanks to you, Richardson).
Okay, so the Colts have improved the roster around Luck, that's a good thing in real life. But Luck is clearly being asked to do less with this year's offense. He's 19th in pass attempts as we go to print, 26th in passing yards per game. Seventeen quarterbacks have more TD passes than Luck's modest five.
Luck's willingness to run has cushioned the stat hit: he's collected 126 yards and a couple of scores on the ground. You welcome that sort of production when it comes, but you can't necessarily bet on it continuing. He was a handy scrambler last year but the final numbers weren't ridiculous (255 yards, five spikes). Sooner or later, this part of the bailout probably diminishes - and it might disappear completely.
Departed coordinator Bruce Arians ran a pass-first offense in 2012, largely due to personnel and game flow. Deep drops, vertical strikes. Pep Hamilton's working with better players in 2013 and it's enabled the Colts to stay more balanced. Good for the Colts, bad for our numbers racket.
I'm not expecting Luck to fall off the face of the planet, mind you. No one is saying you should go into garage-sale mode. But it might be a good time to kick around a possible trade, especially while Luck carries a favorable name-brand and price tag in most fantasy circles. Last year's perfect context is a distant memory. Tony Romo for Luck? I'd take it. Philip Rivers? Charge me up. Ben Roethlisberger? Worth considering, anyway. We'll talk more about this midweek when I shuffle the quarterbacks.
• I've already had a long-form take on the Chargers revival (two weeks back, click here), but I must take another moment to praise the job Mike McCoy has done rebuilding Philip Rivers and the offense. San Diego went into Week 4 without two key receivers (Danario Alexander, Malcom Floyd) and several offensive linemen and it didn't matter. One week it's Eddie Royal doing work, another week it's Danny Woodhead turned into a versatile weapon. The Chargers handed out 49 sacks last year; this season, it's a scant six (against 142 pass attempts).
The upcoming Chargers schedule looks like fun, too: Oakland, Indy, Jacksonville, bye, Washington, Denver (at least GTP). I'm fully in on Philip Rivers. He's a back-end QB1 again. (Can you trade Robert Griffin for Rivers? I'd do that in a second.)
One thing McCoy obviously understands: it's easier to mask a weak offensive line in the passing game. It's helpful to have a veteran quarterback and some backs who can catch the ball, of course. And it sure is fun to watch Antonio Gates dominating football games again.
• If you look at the stats and ignore the tape, Matt Flynn's day didn't look that bad: 21-for-32, 227 yards, one score, one pick. That's 7.1 per attempt and an 83.7 rating. But let's fill in the cracks: the seven sacks reflect a glaring lack of pocket awareness, and Flynn also lost a fumble. And the Raiders only scored 14 points at home against a Washington defense that hadn't stopped anyone the first three weeks.
Flynn's arm strength is also a problem and always will be. If I'm the Raiders, I get Terrelle Pryor back on the field as soon as he's ready. Flynn isn't good enough to be a legitimate starter in the NFL.
If you need a deep backfield sleeper, get Rashad Jennings on the clipboard. Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece are both dinged up, no great surprise on DMC. Jennings didn't do a lot with his 15 carries (45 piddly yards, nothing longer than six), but he caught all eight of his targets en route to 71 receiving yards. McFadden received encouraging injury news Monday, but he's not someone you make a long-term bet on.
Speed Round: C.J. Spiller has been significantly outplayed by Fred Jackson in three of four weeks, and Spiller didn't even have a catch in Week 4 (to be fair, neither did Jackson). At what point do we accept Jackson as the better fantasy play? Answers will be hard to come by for Week 5, given that both runners are dinged up and the Bills play on the abomination known as Thursday Night Football (up against Cleveland's nasty front seven). Heaven help us all . . . One thing to love about Bilal Powell: despite the Jets getting the tar kicked out of them, he still hung around for 108 total yards at Tennessee (I know most of it came in the first half, but he was on the field all four quarters). He has the skill set to play in all packages and game situations . . . Roddy White doesn't look close to 100 percent yet and I wouldn't play him until we see a full, productive performance . . . Baltimore's run blocking ranks 28th on Pro Football Focus, which partially explains why Ray Rice (3.0 YPC) and Bernard Pierce (2.7 YPC) are going nowhere. That said, Baltimore junked the running game far too early at Buffalo (just nine attempts). Balance is important . . . Geno Smith is on a pace for 44 turnovers and yet no one in Jersey misses Mark Sanchez. Hope is a wonderful thing . . . You don't want to take too much from garbage time, but Nick Foles looked good on a late scoring drive in Denver. No one expects Michael Vick to play a full season. If your league is deep enough to invite QB speculation, Foles is the No. 1 non-starting quarterback on my board . . . It's very simple why Tony Gonzalez will be a good player until the day he retires: he doesn't really need to be open to be productive. We saw a clinic on this Sunday night, against a team that usually marks the tight end effectively. There's no defense for a perfectly-executed pass and catch . . . The Dolphins dressed like an USFL team at New Orleans and I guess they decided to play like one. I'm still not sure why the Saints kept their key offensive personnel in the game for 60 minutes (especially high-risk players like Darren Sproles), but most coaches are like that. Seems reckless to me.
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