Andrew Luck made some history for himself in Week 8. He picked up his first road win, helped the Colts end their 10-game road losing streak, and put his name in the record books as having the first game-winning touchdown pass in the modified overtime in the regular season.
Luck became the first rookie ever to have three game-winning drives in his team’s first seven games, and the 11th overall rookie to have that many in a season. Johnny Unitas did it first back in 1956.
What stands out most is just how different this game was compared to the first six for Luck and the Colts’ offense. Here is the drive-by-drive, play-by-play breakdown.
Drive No. 1
Drive Stats: 7:32 left (1st quarter), trailing 3-0. 12 plays, 83 yards (Adam Vinatieri 20-yard field goal).
As has often been the case this season, the Colts started with a long drive either before or after their opponent did the same, resulting in a quick first quarter.
Dwayne Allen had two catches for 36 yards to start the drive. Both passes were play action, and the second was a TE screen. Luck later had two productive scrambles, which were also on play action as the Colts came out using a heavy dose of it for the first time this season.
But on a 3rd and goal at the TEN 4, Luck scrambled just to avoid the sack and gained two yards. Vinatieri kicked the 20-yard field goal to tie the game.
Drive No. 2
Drive Stats: 12:46 left (2nd quarter), tied 3-3. 11 plays, 32 yards (punt).
Starting the drive with a bubble screen, Tennessee defended it as well as you can by punching the ball away. You rarely see that. The protection failed again on second down, but Luck saw a great catch by Reggie Wayne for 13 yards.
Another bubble screen to T.Y. Hilton lost two yards. On 3rd and 8 Luck made another sack-avoiding scramble and found Donnie Avery for 10 yards. A failed screen went for no gain to Wayne, but two plays later Luck converted to Coby Fleener for 15 yards.
The drive would stall after Avery was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul (crack-back block). On 2nd and 18 at the TEN 48, Luck had his pass batted down at the line. On third down, he had to throw the ball away intentionally.
Drive No. 3
Drive Stats: 0:56 left, trailing 10-3. 8 plays, 62 yards (Adam Vinatieri 37-yard field goal is blocked).
With the defense struggling again on third down, the Colts trailed 10-3 and only had 0:56 left for just their third possession of the half. Starting at their own 19 with all three timeouts, the Colts handed the ball to Donald Brown, who gained three yards and made it out of bounds.
After hitting Wayne for 22 yards, the pocket collapsed and Luck suffered his first sack of the game. He fumbled at the end of it, and Anthony Castonzo recovered. The Colts used their second timeout. Luck stood tall in the pocket, delivering a 17-yard strike to Avery, and the Colts gained 15 more on the roughing the passer penalty for the late hit.
Mewelde Moore couldn’t quite hold onto a ball, and Fleener caught one over the middle for nine yards. The Colts avoided disaster on third down as Luck threw to the end zone for Avery, who stopped short on the route and the pass was nearly intercepted.
When there are only seconds left in the half, it is probably not a good idea to stop short a few yards of the end zone, so I would put that error on Avery. Luck went for the touchdown.
Speaking of disaster, Vinatieri’s 37-yard field goal was blocked to end the half. Just like last week versus Cleveland, the Colts had only three first-half possessions.
Drive No. 4
Drive Stats: 14:51 left (3rd quarter), trailing 10-3. 10 plays, 49 yards (Adam Vinatieri 44-yard field goal).
Not to keep harping on disaster, but Luck tried to throw away a pass on the third play of this drive that went right into the chest of Colin McCarthy. Good thing he plays defense.
Hilton went eight yards on a screen, and Luck looked over a lot of traffic in his face to convert the third down to Wayne near the sideline. A bit easier with some play action, Wayne gained 22 yards on the next play. Luck was sacked quickly two plays later, and could only check down to Moore to make the field goal easier. Vinatieri was good this time from 44 yards away.
Drive No. 5
Drive Stats: 8:46 left, trailing 10-6. 3 plays, 24 yards (interception).
Now with a chance to take the lead, Brown had runs of five and 19 yards. At the TEN 32, Luck went for glory in the end zone, but his pass was poorly thrown to Wayne and safety Michael Griffin had an easy interception. Six of Luck’s eight interceptions have been in road games.
Drive No. 6
Drive Stats: 3:22 left, trailing 10-6. 5 plays, 17 yards (punt).
Vick Ballard broke off runs of 17 and 13 yards, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the center Samson Satele moved the Colts back 15 yards. In typical Bruce Arians’ fashion, run the ball every time it works until you lose yards. Ballard lost a yard on his next carry, and Fleener was on the ground (apparently fell) when Luck’s pass arrived harmlessly incomplete.
On 3rd and 11 at the IND 49, Luck was swarmed in the backfield, but he escaped the sack and did what he could to gain three yards on the play. The Colts had to punt.
Drive No. 7
Drive Stats: 10:26 left (4th quarter), trailing 13-6. 14 plays, 80 yards (Delone Carter 1-yard TD run).
Down 13-6, it was time for a fourth quarter comeback. Always good to start with a completion, and it was Wayne for 10 yards over the middle. Allen came back into the passing game, and made his best Wayne impression for a 13-yard grab on a low catch.
Avery gained five yards on a screen, setting up a 3rd and 1. Luck ran the quarterback sneak, but found a good lane on the right and made seven yards out of it.
After not getting the play off in time (delay of game penalty), Luck was drilled as he delivered a 14-yard strike to Hilton near the sideline. Two plays later former Steelers TE Weslye Saunders saw his first target of the season, making an 11-yard catch on another play where Luck had a lot of heat in the pocket.
Now at the TEN 17, Brown and Avery dropped passes. Avery dropped a pass at the TEN 2 as soon as he was hit, but he has been making that catch all season. LaVon Brazill caught a 9-yard gain to set up a 4th and 1, which Arians rightfully went for this time.
Delone Carter converted with a 7-yard gain, and was rewarded with the dive for the 1-yard touchdown to tie the game with 3:24 left.
Drive No. 8
Drive Stats: 0:56 left, tied 13-13. 5 plays, 21 yards (end of half).
The defense held and Luck had 0:56 left with two timeouts, but the ball at the IND 6. After two runs, Luck converted the big third down with a 10-yard pass to Avery. If you do not convert here, Tennessee could have had good field position to get a last-second field goal. Big conversion.
Now moving the offense, Luck completed a pass to Allen, who appeared to fumble. But the Colts caught a huge break as his forward progress was ruled to have been stopped, negating any review of the fumble. Tennessee would have already been in field goal range.
After that, the Colts just did the safe thing and took a knee for overtime.
Drive No. 9
Drive Stats: 15:00 left (overtime), tied 13-13. 9 plays, 80 yards (Andrew Luck 16-yard TD pass to Vick Ballard).
As said earlier, when the running game is working for Bruce Arians, he will stick with it. Brown started overtime with six consecutive carries, but the sixth time he lost three yards, setting up a critical 3rd and 8 at the TEN 36.
Luck made his pass of the day with a 20-yard pass to Wayne. Ballard carried for no gain, then the Colts brought out the throwback screen to him, which was well executed, and Ballard made the effort play of the season with his dive to the end zone to score the game-winning touchdown.
Just like that, the Colts made some history as the first game-winning touchdown drive in the regular season under the new overtime rules.
Luck was 10/12 for 115 yards, TD and a 7-yard run in the fourth quarter and overtime. Both incompletions were dropped.
In many ways, Andrew Luck had a career game. He completed 26 of 38 passes (68.4 percent) for 297 yards, TD, INT, and a 89.5 passer rating. He averaged 7.82 yards per attempt. Factor in three drops, an intentional throw away, Fleener falling down, Avery cutting off his route, two passes getting batted at the line, and it was a very accurate performance for Luck. His only big miss was throwing too wide on the interception in the end zone.
Of course, the Tennessee pass defense has been struggling all season, but it was good to see him take advantage.
How the Colts went about it was much different this week than any other game this season. No snap-time data this week, as I could not get my video cut-up in time (thanks Sandy).
Under Pressure: Even though Tennessee showed the least aggressive defense of the season (they rushed five or more on 20.0 percent of Luck’s drop backs), they pressured Luck a season-best 44.4 percent of the time. He responded with great statistics as you can see in the top-third table.
More Play Action: Colts used play action on 24.4 percent of Luck’s drop backs, which represents a season high. After five play-action plays on Luck’s first nine drop backs, the Colts only used it six times on his final 36 drop backs.
Lots of Screen Passes = More YAC: Bruce Arians loves his screens, and after not calling a single one last week, the Colts went with a season-high nine of them on Sunday. Keep in mind they had 14 through the first six games. Luck was 7-of-9 for 49 yards and the game-winning touchdown on the screens. Brown dropped one, and the other miss was that early play that was punched away. The increase in screens and big play from Ballard also made this the first time all season Luck’s YAC% was over 40 percent (42.1 percent).
Less Shotgun/Empty Backfield: Even though Luck has had a lot of success in the shotgun this year, the Colts only used it a season-low 48.9 percent of his drop backs. It was also a season-low for the empty backfield, with six appearances on 45 plays (13.3 percent).
Was less shotgun justified? You be the judge.
- Shotgun (22 plays): 15/19 passing, 161 yards and eight first downs.
- Non-Shotgun (23 plays): 11/19 passing, 154 yards and 11 first downs.
Up next is a big game at home against the Miami Dolphins. Both teams are 4-3, and this could be a significant leap towards a Wild Card spot. Miami will bring a much better defense than what Cleveland and Tennessee have, so hope for the Colts to show up on defense and maybe Luck can pull out another close one in the end.
You touched on it at the end of your post... but it did seem that the Colts against the Titans went with a lot more short passes and passes to the running backs. On the heals of all the discussion about how Luck was outperforming RGIII in the advanced stats because he was throwing downfield much more, was this an intentional change or just in reaction to what the Titan's D was doing? (Or am I completely wrong and the Colts were not checking down more at all.)
Some fascinating stuff here. This team's usage of play-action is the most confusing thing to me, especially after the success they've had running the ball in recent weeks, just totally underused. Also, pressure on 30% of drop backs is absolutely disgusting, although the 44.4% for Tennessee is actually lower than I thought it would be.
Anyhow, great work as always. This piece has become about my dislike of Bruce Arians as much as it about my love for Luck.