Andrew Luck is, without question, a wiser quarterback today than he was seven weeks ago.
But the Indianapolis Colts rookie doesn’t know it all.
He’s the first to say so.
“I think I’ve learned a little bit more about the playbook, maybe a little bit more about opposing defenses; still a long way to go,” said Luck, whose NFL career is six games old heading into Sunday’s AFC South showdown at Tennessee. “I think I’m learning when to throw the ball away, when to take a sack, when not to force a ball.
“These are things that I’m nowhere near perfect on and will continue to learn, and hopefully I’ll get better.”
Not that the Luck has been bad, especially by rookie standards on a rebuilding team. His stats don’t dazzle, but the only figure that matters is his record as the starter: 3-3.
Already off to a significantly better start than most experts predicted, the Colts remain in the playoff picture and can go above .500 for the first time this season with a win against the Titans (3-4).
For the Colts to get it, they’ll have to conquer the challenges that have led to their 0-2 start start on the road. Turnovers, pass-protection breakdowns, an inefficient ground game and yielding big plays on defense have contributed equally to the struggles — of which Luck has not been immune.
He had what was easily the worst game of his young career three weeks ago at New York, where he committed three turnovers — two interceptions and a fumble — during a 35-9 loss against the Jets. In the season-opener, he threw three interceptions during a 41-21 loss at Chicago.
On the season, Luck has thrown seven interceptions, all but two happening away from Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Colts are 3-1.
Luck is confident that the hard lessons learned on the road are starting to sink in. Stemming the turnover flood is his top priority.
“Its nigh impossible to win when you’re minus-seven, or whatever we are on the road,” Luck said. We know we have to clean that up, and I think that goes in the overall theme of a little more focus, a little more consistency offensively, a little more attention to detail.
“We realize if we want to be a better football team, we are going to have to start winning on the road.”
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, off to the best start of his 12-year career, insists the improvement burden is on the offense’s collective shoulders, not just Luck’s.
“It’s on everybody. We win as a team. We lose as a team. We turn it over as a team. Some of those turnovers in away games I feel like if you look at the one against the Jets, one went off of my hand,” Wayne said. “I have to find some kind of way to bat that ball down. I think it’s a collective effort as far as that is concerned. That just comes with the nature of being a quarterback.
“When you win, you get the glory. When you lose, they get the finger pointed to. Us as a team, we feel like it’s a team effort, team deal. As a team, we need to protect the ball.”
Statistically, Luck ranks near the bottom of the league’s starting quarterbacks. He’s completed 134 of 250 passes for a pedestrian 53.6 completion percentage and has has thrown as many interceptions (seven) as he has touchdowns.
Moreover, his 72.3 passer ties him with Cleveland rookie Brandon Weeden for the second-lowest rating in the NFL. Only Kansas City’s Matt Cassell’s rating is lower at 66.2.
But again, the Colts don’t gauge their franchise player by the numbers. They have no complaints about the poise and skill he’s demonstrated in keeping them in playoff contention.
“There are so many quarterback ratings now, and everybody’s got their own,” interim coach Bruce Arians said. “I judge the one we have and how he’s playing.”
Though he doesn’t declare himself a polished product, Luck collects a measure of veteran savvy each time out.
“I think I’m getting more comfortable in certain situations,” he said. “I think my thought process is maybe smoother now, and I see this, and I know this is coming, and I know I need to be here with my read. I would say that process is getting smoother.”