Monday, October 26, 2015

Luck's out

No, I don't know what's wrong with Andrew Luck. Perhaps we should ask this gentleman over here.

US:  Excuse us, sir. Do you know what's wrong with Andrew Luck?

GENTLEMAN OVER HERE (looking around hazily): Who? Oh. Yeah. No, I don't know. Hey, did you see an edge pass rusher come by here awhile ago? I coulda sworn he was right in front me, but now he's gone. Weird.

Weird is right. Once upon a time -- like, say, two months ago -- Andrew Luck was a lot of smart guys' odds-on favorite to lead the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl. Now he's leading them to  Chuck Pagano's farewell party.

The budding young star who previously had icewater in his veins now stands frozen in the pocket, no longer riffing through his reads like Myles Davis. These days when he does it, he looks more like the Tin Man, pre-oilcan. He hesitates. He double-clutches. He double-clutches again.

Oops, down he goes, sacked again. Oops, there the football goes, smack dab into double coverage or off toward Banker's Life Fieldhouse a few blocks away.

Game by game, week by week, the former Next Big Thing looks more and more like a young man whose confidence is shot. And if it's hard to pinpoint exactly why, it's only because there are a million reasons.

In some form or fashion, most of them have to do with the aforementioned Gentleman Over Here and his fellow offensive linemen, who simply aren't up to their jobs. For that, you can blame Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, who wasted valuable draft picks on second-tier wide receivers (of whom there are dozens, here in the era of the wideout) and spent the offseason cruising nursing homes for help.

That has gone about how you would expect. With the possible exception of running back Frank Gore, none of the Walker Brigade has panned out. Andre Johnson, who's been around so long he used to hang with Bronko Nagurski, has been all but silent. Trent Cole, brought in to juice up the pass rush, doesn't have a single sack. And so on, and so on. 

The offensive line, meanwhile, can't block sunlight. This is never a good thing, but it's especially un-good when paired with Pep Hamilton's offense, which dictates exactly the sort of deep drops and lengthy pass routes that require linemen who, well, can block sunlight. Not to say opposing pass rushers.

 The upshot is that Luck's getting hit. A lot. And the upshot of that is he's got a banged-up throwing shoulder and a serious case of the flinches.

This pretty much spells catastrophe for a football team that has depended on Luck to carry it since Day One, and which continues to do so. But if Luck consequently bears a good chunk of the responsibility for the Colts' 3-4 start (Stat of the year: Luck is 1-4 while his backup, Matt Hasselbeck, is 2-0) he's been done no favors by his offensive coordinator and his front office.

If the Colts were smart, they'd let Luck run the same offense Hasselbeck ran while Luck was out with the shoulder : Short drops, short routes, dink-and-dunk in much the way the Patriots do with Tom Brady. At least then Luck would have a fighting chance, and so would what few weapons he has at his disposal.

On the other hand ... when you get shut out for most of three quarters by one of the league's shabbiest defenses, maybe nothing helps. Maybe you look ahead to what's coming -- unbeaten Carolina, unbeaten Denver and once-beaten Atlanta -- and see 3-7 in the wind, and you start making plans to reset.

Pagano was probably already gone after Hey, Watch This, aka the fake non-punt against the Patriots. Grigson may be, too, judging by the postgame shouting match he got into Sunday with owner Jim Irsay in the Colts locker room. You can excuse losing to the Patriots, because at least it was an honest effort honestly given; you can't excuse Sunday's laydown, when the Colts fell behind the rebuilding Saints 27-0 in their own house and weren't even on the premises until it was too late to matter.

Luck was actually booed by the home folks after throwing a horrendous pick to end the first half. You couldn't blame them. But there was a message in it the Colts would do well to heed.

The message: Andrew Luck has done the heavy lifting for this team long enough. Time for the team to start lifting him up.   

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