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Pushing Your Luck In The Playoffs?


Andrew Luck returned to the NFL with a bang in 2018. The first few games were a little bit shaky with the team averaging just 20 points per game in the first three weeks. However, things started to click in Week 4, and since then the Colts averaged 33.1 points per game between Weeks 4 and 12. In that span, Luck went on a superb streak throwing three or more touchdown passes in each of those games, dispelling any suggestions that the injuries of the past had somehow meant he was no longer going to be a force in the NFL.

However, those statistics came to a shuddering halt against the Jacksonville Jaguars on the Sunday of Week 13. The Colts failed to register a single point and Luck struggled to get any momentum going during the game. Despite throwing the ball 52 times, Luck had just 248 passing yards for an average of 4.8 yards per attempt. He also threw a bad interception to the Jaguars slot corner, D.J. Hayden.

So the questions we need to ask are was this just a blip? Or could it be the start of an incredibly tough run for Andrew Luck? What does this latest outing mean for fantasy owners going forward?

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A Lucky Streak

I have already referenced the superb eight-game touchdown streak that Luck went on in the middle of the season. Other quarterbacks near the top of that list for the longest streak are Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Dan Marino. In the top-five, all of the quarterbacks are either Hall of Fame quarterbacks or players who will have a very good chance of making it in the future. It was an extremely impressive streak even in the pass-friendly 2018 version of the NFL.

Something that helped Luck majorly was the protection he got from his offensive line. Luck was not sacked in five straight games stretching from Week 6 through to Week 11. That streak was broken by Cameron Wake of the Miami Dolphins in Week 12, a game which the Colts won on a last-second field goal. In those five games, the Colts averaged 36 points per game and turned the ball over just five times. Outside of that five-game stretch (seven games) they have averaged just 20.7 points per game and turned the ball over 14 times. When Luck has been protected extremely well, the Colts have dominated. When he has not, they have struggled.

Angry Jaguars

The question is what went wrong against the Jaguars? Quite honestly a number of things. Luck completed just 63.5% of his passes which is his third-lowest completion rate of the season. He averaged 4.8 passing yards per attempt, the second lowest of the season and his 3.9 adjusted yards per attempt was his only time under four this season. He was also sacked three times, the second most in any game this season. Luck was seemingly under pressure all game, and it meant he was unable to push the ball deep. That meant that when he completed passes, they were short yardage and the offense was unable to build any momentum.

The question is what changed from when the Colts faced the Jaguars two weeks earlier? In the previous game, Luck was not sacked once, completed 72.4% of his passes, threw for 285 yards and had three passing touchdowns. The most obvious thing to point to is the effect the benching of Blake Bortles had on the team. The offense has been a major source of frustration all season for the Jaguars defense, and I fully believe the benching provoked this extra effort on the defensive side of the ball. It is also extremely hard to beat the same team twice, especially in such a short period. The Jaguars defense will have seen this offense extremely recently and that will have played a major part in helping them shut it down. Playing on the road in Jacksonville will not have helped the Colts either, and five of Luck's worst games in terms of quarterback rating have come on the road this season.

Run Game Assistance?

Another factor that went wrong for the Colts was the complete break down of their run game in this matchup against the Jaguars. The Colts had managed to have over 100 yards rushing in five of their last six games, the previous game against the Jaguars is the lone exception. In games where the Colts have rushed for over 100 yards this season, they are 4-1, compared to a 1-5 record when they have less than 100 yards rushing. The run game has been an important part of the offense for the Colts and it has helped Luck tremendously. Having a strong run game keeps defenders on their back foot and helps the offensive line to pass protect as defensive linemen and linebackers cannot simply pin their ears back and go after the quarterback. The Colts need to get back to the success they have had running the ball in October and November, and then Luck has a chance to get back to how he was performing before this most recent game.

The Schedule

Now we get to that all-important part for Luck's fantasy owners. His upcoming schedule. Below are the final four games for Andrew Luck and where those teams rank in terms of fantasy points surrendered to opposing quarterbacks and running backs.

Opponent vs. QB vs. RB
@ Texans 27 23
vs. Cowboys 24 26
vs. Giants 23 11
@ Titans 22 27

If you are a Luck fantasy owner, that schedule does not make for pretty reading. Not only do all of those four opponents rank right around the top-10 against the quarterback, but three of the four also rank among the top-10 when it comes to facing running backs too. We have already discussed just how much the run game has helped Luck this season so this is a really bad sign. If you are at least facing a defense who has issues against the run then you can use the run to set up the pass. However, if that team naturally plays the run well then they are less likely to commit extra defenders to the running game and therefore be less vulnerable to the play action pass.

 

The Verdict

The evidence does not look good if you are an Andrew Luck owner. The upcoming opponents for the Colts have had a lot of success against the run and the pass. Luck has benefited highly from an extremely good run of defenses to face in the past couple of months. However, now he faces an extremely tough run with two of the hottest defenses in football in the next two weeks. The biggest upside for Luck is that at least his Week 15 and 16 matchups are at home, where he has generally performed better. However, if this week is either the first week of your playoffs or the final week of your regular season it will be tough to trust Luck on the road in Houston after what they just did to Baker Mayfield.

This week, I think you have to look elsewhere but that does not mean you should drop Luck. If the Eagles manage to unlock the Dallas defense this week in Dallas, then you could potentially trust Luck next week. Same goes for the Giants who just gave up 23 points to Chase Daniel. It is possible to score on the Giants, especially when playing at home. I would look to hold onto Luck but find a spot for him on my bench this week, especially if there is a streaming option you like available on the waiver wire in Week 14.

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