He’s led the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs in each of his three seasons, been to the Pro Bowl every time and thrown for more yards than any quarterback in NFL history at the start of his career.
So what’s next for Andrew Luck?
The simple answer would be the Super Bowl, but that’s a given. It’s what every NFL player dreams of entering each season.
Specifically, after leading the league with 40 touchdown passes last season, what is Luck concentrating on for 2015?
“That touchdown to interception ratio I think is very important,” Luck said recently during offseason training activities. “Cutting down on turnovers I think is my number one goal for myself as a quarterback going into next season besides (of) the obvious, winning a Super Bowl.
“I think we’ve done a good job in practice so far with (backups) Matt (Hasselbeck) and Bryan Bennett and the wideouts and everybody in cutting down on those turnovers. But that touchdown to interception ratio I think has to be better.”
After being selected No. 1 overall in 2012, Luck had 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions as a rookie. The TD total stayed the same and he reduced the interception total to nine in his second season. Last year, he actually had the best differential of his career with 40 scores and 16 interceptions.
But Luck is the kind of guy who dwells on his mistakes, hence the emphasis on being smarter and cutting down on them next season. That includes fumbles — he had a career-high 13, six of them lost last season.
Granted, Luck has been asked to throw the ball a ton so far. He’s completed 1,062-of-1,813 passes for 12,957 yards. He’s taken 100 sacks, so those fumbles aren’t always on him. But he’s the first to admit when he screws up.
“There was sort of a bad decision, a bad miss, a physical error, just a bad placement of the ball,” he said of last season, when the Colts went farther than ever before in his era, although it was an ugly 45-7 AFC Championship Game loss at New England.
“There’s a couple that you can sort of chalk-up to a tipped ball here or there, sort of no one’s fault per say, but predominantly it was either just a bad decision or a bad miss where it’s behind a guy or gets tipped up, late over the middle, things of that nature.”
Luck doesn’t like to slide when he scrambles, but he’s actually worked on it. And he understands that sometimes he just needs to swallow the ball and take the loss, although that’s difficult to accept in the heat of the moment.
“I think I’ve gotten better with that in especially understanding the situations that we’re in in the game,” he said. “Whether it’s, ‘Hey this is a time where it’s OK to force the ball,’ or, ‘No, hey, let’s take a sack. Let’s let the best punter in football go out there and punt the ball. Or throw the ball away, let’s live to play another down.’”
Then he mentioned one of his incorrect decisions.
“Tennessee Titans (at home), two-minute drill before the end of the half,” he said. “We’re backed up. It’s second down, maybe third down and I force a ball that had no business being thrown there. We’re up. We don’t need to give them a chance to go into the half scoring. Things of that nature can help.”
Luck apologized to his teammates at halftime for that interception. Then he threw three second-half touchdowns to finish with four in a 41-17 rout of the Titans on Sept. 28 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Head coach Chuck Pagano has seen his young passer continually mature in game management.
“All those guys need to know when to say when, when the down is over,” the coach said. “He’s learned that over the course of his first three years. Really good two years ago. A little bit on the high side from a turnover standpoint this last season, he knows that.”
Pagano mentioned the team’s emphasis on improving in third-down conversions and executing better in the red zone. The Colts tied for 13th in third-down conversions at 41 percent last season. They were 12th in touchdowns scored after driving into the red zone at 55.07 percent. Taking the statistics one step further, Colts quarterbacks (which is almost all Luck numbers) ranked 14th in red-zone quarterback rating at 97.2.
“We know we’ve got to improve on third down,” Pagano said. “We know we’ve got to get much better in the red area. It’s been an area of focus, for not only him, but for our entire offense, those situational things.
“He’s a great competitor, and they’re always trying to make a play. There’s a lot of times where I’m sure everybody in this room and everybody on the sideline was saying, ‘The down is over.’ But he’s getting tackled from behind and hits a guy in stride for a touchdown pass. I think it was (Donte) Moncrief, right (in playoff win over Cincinnati)? Now you say, ‘Hey, no, no, no. Oh, OK, good job, Andrew.’ He’s getting better at that and he’ll be alright.”
Pagano was asked earlier in OTAs about what has stood out most about Luck.
“Just his competitive nature,” the coach said. “We all know his skillset. We all know how bright he is. But he’s a great, great competitor. He’ll never settle for anything, but your best. He expects a lot out of himself, and he expects a lot from his teammates, which is the right way to go about business.
“Everybody sets the standards high for each other in that locker room, personally accountability. When it comes from player-to-player, it’s huge and when they hold each other to a higher standard and accountability, it’s big time.”
Pagano mentioned when Luck scooped up a fumble near the goal line and leaped to the end zone for a touchdown in a comeback playoff victory over Kansas City a postseason ago. The picture of Luck lunging with his arm extending the ball across the goal line has been posterized in social media.
“The Kansas City play,” Pagano said of Luck’s memorable reaction to a potentially disastrous situation, “you just go back to that play and that says it all to me.”
One noticeable difference in three years is how Luck has taken ownership of his offense. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton recently bestowed the oft-uttered compliment of great quarterbacks, that he’s like a coach on the field.
“I was never really sure what he was like off the field, but he definitely conducts himself on the field like he’s a coach,” said offensive guard Todd Herremans, who joined the Colts in free agency from the Philadelphia Eagles. “Then once I got here, and I was able to listen to him talk in the meeting rooms and in the install and everything, he’s basically coach/player. That’s exactly what his role is, and he’s excellent at both of them.”
No. 12 continues to evolve, a young man who turns 26 in September, a quarterback who always expects more of himself.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.