Senior NFL Columnist

After Further Review: Luck may be a rookie, but he sure doesn't play like it


The tape is silent, but the message from it is loud:

"A rookie quarterback isn't supposed to do these things," it screams.

That's the message I heard after watching Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck carve up the Miami Dolphins last week for 433 yards.

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Forget the numbers. The tape shows how impressive Luck can be against the one thing that usually stifles rookie passers: pressure in their face.

We've seen many a quarterback exposed because of the inability to stand in the face of pressure and make throws.

Staring down the gun barrel is not fun. It's dangerous. But to be successful in the NFL, you have to do it. Or you have to be able to move away from the pressure and make accurate throws on the move.

Luck did both against the Dolphins.

Yes, he's mature. Yes, he has a good arm. And he carries himself like a veteran. But making plays against pressure is what separates the good from the great.

Tom Brady does it. Aaron Rodgers does it. Peyton Manning kills it.

Luck is good at it, too. Only eight games into his NFL career and he already might be making teams think again about coming after him.

The key to handling pressure is understanding your passing reads and also having a feel for where the pressure is coming from, and moving subtly away from it to make throws. It doesn't mean running all the time. Dan Marino had a great feel for moving away from pressure to make throws with a little hop here or a slide there. Peyton Manning and Brady and Rodgers do it now.

Luck did plenty of that against the Dolphins.

One of most impressive plays was not one of his touchdown throws, but rather a 21-yard throw to Reggie Wayne in the second quarter. The Colts had a first-and-10 at their own 20.

Before the snap, Wayne motions across the formation from left to right, leaving a single receiver to the left. The Dolphins blitz off that left side with safety Reshad Jones. But he's picked up by running back Vick Ballard. The pressure instead comes from Luck's right side in the form of Derrick Shelby.

Luck initially looks to the middle of the field to tight end Dwayne Allen, but he is covered. But that's when Shelby (yellow line and x) starts bearing down on him as you can see in the first picture below. Luck has a clear path to take off and run to the left side, which most young quarterbacks would usually do. He doesn't. Instead he takes a few steps to his left and finds Wayne in the middle of the field.



With Shelby attacking him, Luck keeps his head up and finds a wide-open Wayne (blue circle) for a 21-yard gain. As you can see from the picture below, Luck could run to the left side for a big gain. But he's smart. The ball travels faster in the air than it does with his legs, and it's a lot safer throwing it to the receivers.


The other thing I noticed about Luck was how well he did identifying pressure and hitting pass plays against it. The following pictures are a perfect example of that.

The Dolphins blitz corner Jimmy Wilson (yellow circle) off the edge, something they like to do a lot. Luck sees it right away. The Dolphins then have linebacker Karlos Dansby try and get out on Wayne. That leaves a void in the middle of the field. Allen runs there, and Luck hits him with an easy throw that turns out to be a 20-yard gain that sets up the winning field goal. It's a simple throw, but one made that way by his ability to see things before they happen.



Even when Luck misses an open receiver or two, he is still able to make plays down the field. Take a look at the next two pictures. Luck has a wide-open Allen (blue circle) for what should be an easy throw and a big play. But Luck never looks at him. What he does do is slide away from the pressure from Olivier Vernon and find Wayne (blue circle second shot) for a 9-yard gain. It isn't as big a play as he should have had, but he makes something out of it anyway. That's a sign of understanding your progressions and having a feel for the rush.



Luck moves to throw most of the time, even if he can run -- since he is so athletic. That's what makes him so dangerous as a quarterback. He knows how to keep his head up and find receivers down the field.

Like the tape screams: Rookies aren't supposed to be doing those types of things.

Film study

1. The Houston Texans are one of the best at designing plays to take advantage of a team's aggressive approach. They get all the action going one way and then throw back across the field for big plays more than any other team in the league. The Texans scored their first touchdown last Sunday that way against the Bills when Matt Schaub hit tight end Owen Daniels for a 39-yard score. The play was designed and run to perfection. Here's a look.

Facing a first-and-10 at the Buffalo 39, the Texans line up in a three-wide, one-back set. Daniels lines up tight on the left side of the offensive formation (blue circle). Just before the snap, the Texans motion tight end Garrett Graham (red circle) from wide left to just outside Daniels' hip to have an added blocker.


The offensive-line action, with the zone-blocking movement to the right and a play-fake by quarterback Matt Schaub to Arian Foster (black circle) in that direction, has the Bills attacking the run. But Schaub pulls the ball out and bootlegs to his left. That makes it look like he will throw to one of the two receivers crossing the field. But the Texans deceive the Bills in a big way. Daniels makes it look like he's blocking, holds up for a second, and then sneaks out across the formation. Nobody goes with him as the two safeties go with the crossing routes (white circles). It's an easy pitch and catch for a score.



The Chicago Bears have to be careful of this type of thing this week. The Bears are an aggressive run-to-the-football defense that could pay the price with the Texans' great design on offense.

2. There are a lot of defensive tackles playing some really good football. One of those who isn't getting a lot of attention is Atlanta's Jonathan Babineaux. He was really good last week against the Cowboys. He lined up inside at tackle, but also played some end and did some really good things. Babineaux's play is a big reason why the Falcons have improved on defense. He was hurt in 2011 and didn't play as well as expected. But this season, he has been impressive.

Here are a few plays from last week's game that show him eating up the Cowboys.

The first play has him lined up at left end (yellow x) against Cowboys tackle Doug Free. At the snap, Babineaux makes a quick inside move to beat Free. As you can see by the second shot, Felix Jones has no chance as Free cannot handle Babineaux's strong move.



The second set of pictures shows Babineaux getting a sack. He is lined up as the right defensive tackle (yellow x) and he beats guard Nate Livings with a quick first move to the outside. Livings has no chance as Babineaux goes right around him to dump Tony Romo for a 9-yard loss.



3. It drives me nuts when defenses get caught running players onto the field at the last second because they are trying to substitute. That happened to the Browns on the Ravens' winning touchdown drive. On a first-and-10 from Cleveland 29, the Browns got caught shuffling in players. Cornerback Buster Skrine and linebacker Craig Robertson were late onto the field. The Ravens ran a toss to the far side to Ray Rice, which made it tough for those two to get into the play. Skrine actually did get over, but Kelechi Osemele cut him down with a nice block. Rice picked up 10 yards on the play. That cannot happen. Three plays later, Joe Flacco hit Torrey Smith with a 19-yard touchdown pass.

4. What in the heck was Bucs coach Greg Schiano doing at the end of his team's victory against Oakland? After the Bucs picked off Carson Palmer with 1:38 left in the game, and with the Raiders having one timeout and trailing by 10, Schiano handed off to Doug Martin three times. Why? Just take a knee and go home. The game is over. Why risk injury to a guy who just ran wild and scored four touchdowns? It's quite clear by watching the tape that the Tampa Bay line didn't even give half an effort on those last three plays. Oakland dumped Martin for three losses totaling 14 yards, dropping him from 265 yards to 251 yards. That's just arrogance and stupidity on the part of Schiano. Could you imagine if Martin got hurt on one of those runs?

5. Another thing from that Bucs-Raiders game that stood out was the poor play of the Tampa Bay corners. They had big problems from busted coverage to just flat out getting beat. E.J. Biggers had a really tough time. He got beat twice in man coverage for touchdowns. Rookie Leonard Johnson appeared to bust a coverage on a long touchdown pass that was called back. Palmer threw for 414 yards. Marcel Reece beat Myron Lewis for a late touchdown. Johnson did get a pick on a misread by Palmer late and Biggers also had one. But without a great pass rush, that secondary has to tighten things up. Philip Rivers has to be licking his chops this week. The Bucs have the NFL's best run defense, but they are last in pass defense. You can bet the Bucs will draft a corner early next spring.

6. A week after getting shut out by Titans backup tackle Mike Otto, Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney got the best of Dolphins tackle Jake Long, who is considered one of the elite tackles in the league. Freeney got a sack off Long that forced a fumble. He did so with his patented spin move, getting his body into Long, and then spinning free for a sack that forced a fumble. (Long did recover the fumble.) Later, Freeney got pressure with a bull rush on him and also forced a holding penalty on Long on the final offensive play of the game for Miami. It was a rough go for Long. When the Dolphins protected Ryan Tannehill, he was impressive; he could make plays down the field. But he was hit six times and sacked twice. Long and his linemates have to be better.

7. Speaking of tackles getting whipped, I initially thought Bengals right tight tackle Andre Smith, who is having his best season, was no match for Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller last week. Miller had three sacks of Andy Dalton. But the reality is Smith was really only to blame for one of them. The first sack Miller got actually came when he stunted inside and ran over guard Kevin Zeitler. The second sack came when Miller worked underneath Smith in one-on-one blocking to get Dalton. In fairness to Smith, Dalton held the ball too long. Smith had Miller blocked. The third sack came when Miller whipped Smith with a bull rush and came underneath him to dump Dalton in the third quarter. Miller did draw a holding penalty in the fourth quarter on center Jeff Faine when he looped inside on a stunt. That wiped out a 19-yard completion from Dalton to A.J. Green. That's the play where Dalton was heard on the mike complaining to the officials that they were costing his team the game. Sorry, Andy, but Faine hog-tied him. But I have to apologize to Smith. When I first watched the game on television, I thought Miller got the best of him. He didn't. Smith actually played OK.

8. The Raiders have to be one of the worst tackling teams I've watched all year. The linebackers aren't very good. Safety Matt Giordano was horrible against the Bucs. And linebacker Rolando McClain really struggles. The Oakland defense, aside from Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour inside on their line, really has problems. Michael Huff, the converted safety who is now playing corner, is struggling, too. He missed a run fit on one of Doug Martin's long runs. New coach Dennis Allen is a defensive-oriented coach, but it's hard to get stops without talent.

9. I can't believe what I saw from Matt Hasselbeck last week for the Titans. He made mistakes that young quarterbacks make. The Brian Urlacher pick for a score was a perfect example. Urlacher was lurking in the middle of the field in zone coverage, right in front of Hasselbeck. But Hasselbeck tried to force a pass to Kendall Wright that Urlacher stepped in front of for an easy pick that turned into a touchdown. Wright was covered well by corner Kelvin Hayden anyway. What Hasselbeck should have done, and what a smart veteran does, is make Urlacher go that way and then throw behind him to tight end Jared Cook, who was open. Little mistakes like that are killing the Titans. It's no wonder they can't wait to get Jake Locker back.

10. It would be easy to place all the blame for the failures of the Vikings passing game on quarterback Christian Ponder. That wouldn't be fair. After watching the tape from the Seattle-Minnesota game, there are a lot of reasons why Ponder was held to 65 yards passing. It starts with his receivers not winning. Percy Harvin has 65 catches, but he's gaining only 10.1 yards per catch. He doesn't threaten vertically enough in this offense. And the other guys don't win. Then there's the offensive line. At times, they were whipped by the Seattle front. They didn't give Ponder a lot of time to scan the field for open receivers. Then there were times when Ponder just missed some throws or took off too soon. There is no doubt the Minnesota passing game is struggling, but it's a lot of reasons. Not just Ponder.

Hot Tub

1. Bears CB Charles Tillman: He forced four fumbles last week and he's playing well in coverage.

2. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger: He is killing it on third down. He is quietly having a great season.

3. Panthers DE Charles Johnson: He has really picked up his game in the past month after a slow start.

4. Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson: He is gaining over 20 yards per catch and split a double for a 64-yard gain last week.

5. Bears LB Brian Urlacher: He hasn't been his usual dominant self with the Bears this season, but he was impressive against the Titans, getting a pick-six.

Cold Tub

1. Giants QB Eli Manning: He just didn't look crisp against the Steelers. He needs to get it going.

2. Dolphins CB Sean Smith: He has played really well this season, but not as well against the Colts.

3. Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon: He doesn't do the little things you need to do to be a good receiver yet. He is sloppy.

4. Bengals C Jeff Faine: He has really struggled since taking over for the injured Kyle Cook.

5. Eagles T Demetress Bell: He came in for Todd Herremans against the Saints and was a spinning top. What has happened to him?

Three and outs

Three stats that impress me

 Bears QB Jay Cutler leads all quarterbacks in fourth-down passing with a rating of 135.0 with eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

 Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, the leading passer on third down, has seven touchdown passes and no picks on third down.

 Both Falcons receivers -- Roddy White and Julio Jones -- are gaining over 15 yards per catch.

Three predictions I wish I could have back

 Bengals playing in the AFC title game. That isn't happening.

 Patriots going 16-0. Oops.

 The Bears would miss the playoffs. They won't.

Three rookies playing great with little fanfare

1. Bucs LB Lavonte David: He is a tackling machine. He had 16 against the Raiders.

2. Bengals G Kevin Zeitler: He battles and when he gets stronger he will be even better.

3. Titans DT Mike Martin: I love this short tackle coming out, and he has played like I thought he might. He is a brawler.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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