With 11:22 left in the Indianapolis Colts' 28-16 victory over the Houston Texans, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck zinged a 70-yard bomb to rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton to seal the game, and the Colts' impressive 11-5 regular-season finish. More impressive is that the play came in a third-and-23, and this points to a trend that Luck has been on top of all season long.
As our buddy Greg Cosell of NFL Films has told us through the season, the Colts are the only team to convert more than 30 percent of their third-and-10 or more situations this season, and no other team is even close. We're going to go ahead and assume that a lot of that has to do with Luck's big-time arm, though it's now worth remembering that some in the NFL analyst fraternity were not convinced that Luck could grip it and rip it.
Take, for example, former NFL quarterback and current CBS game analyst Phil Simms, who has never seemed to climb on the bus when it comes to Luck's potential.
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"I think the hype is a little too much," Simms said on SIRIUS NFL Radio in November of 2011, when asked about Luck's NFL future. "I feel bad for him in that respect. I mean, [how's] he going to do to match what they say he can do? There's a lot to him. I think his best quality, by far, is that he's big and strong and he's going to be able to move and run in the NFL. There's no question. I mean, this guy is strong. The throwing? He manages a game. I see all that.
"But the one thing I don't see, I just don't see big-time NFL throws. I don't care what anybody says. I've watched a lot of him. He never takes it and rips it in there. And you can say what you want but, man, you've got to be able to crease that ball every once in a while. We see it every week in these games. Hey, he can develop it but even in the USC game, you know, he's very careful with it, guides it a lot. That's what I see.
"There's not a lot of rotation on the ball and there's not a tremendous amount of power. Not that you need to have that power arm. I'm not saying you've got to have that exclusively but, man, it sure helps when you can do that because there's four or five plays a game it is about arm strength. And sometimes quarterbacks who don't have it, they pass those plays up. Why? Well, they go, 'I don't know if I can make that throw,' so they throw it short. That's why I'm a little more reserved in my judgment than everybody else."
To date, we're not aware of Simms recanting this bit of ridiculousness, but we'll throw a few stats out there for those of you who are still not convinced. Not only has Luck led his team to that amazing third-and-long conversion rate, but he's also third in the NFL in what we could call "Air Yards" (passing yards before the catch) in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Coming into Week 17, Luck had thrown 2,663 of his 4,186 yards before the catch -- only Tony Romo, Drew Brees, and Matthew Stafford had more -- and that 63.6 "in the air" percentage put him third-best in the league behind Mark Sanchez and Eli Manning.
Oh, yeah -- also per PFF, Luck has attempted more passes to targets 20 or more yards downfield (100 through Week 16) than any other NFL quarterback. He's got 1,046 passing yards, eight touchdowns, and six picks on such passes, which would point to some rookie yips, but it also makes clear that the Colts' coaching staff has absolutely no qualms about letting Luck pin the meters.
Perhaps there was a second Andrew Luck in the draft -- after all, there were two Robert Griffins -- and Simms was watching the other one. In the meantime, we remain impressed with the deep arm of the kid who was picked first overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
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