Sometimes, somebody says something that makes you question everything.
Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson raised my eyebrows more than once Friday. But I can’t get one comment out of my mind.
In ending a prolonged interview silence, Grigson appeared on Dan Dakich’s ESPN 1070-The Fan radio show. He was asked: “Do you feel blame for Andrew Luck getting hurt?”
“Never even crossed my mind,” Grigson said, after a moment of hesitation. “That’s never even crossed my mind until you said it. It’s a physical game.”
Wrong answer. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. So wrong, it made my head spin.
I’m not discounting that Luck suffered a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle on a scramble. That could happen on any play. And while some blame the offensive line for the quarterback running, he was checking several options and didn’t see anybody open. So a play can break down for a variety of reasons.
Luck sure seemed hesitant to run in the past, but in this game, he had already tucked it and gained two first downs. His internal clock told him to take off and make what he could of the play. Sure, it’s a physical line of work. Injuries happen.
But from day one, after drafting Luck first overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, the No. 1 priority has been to give him protection behind a reliable offensive line. We’ve heard that repeated in the past two offseasons. And I mean repeated by Grigson as well as head coach Chuck Pagano.
Here’s the correct answer, Mr. Grigson:
“I’ve not done a good enough job of giving Luck better protection."
Grigson can spin the details as to why that hasn’t happened any way he wants. He can talk forever about players he signed in free agency, guys he drafted, maybe somebody he should have drafted or signed because hindsight is always 20-20.
But bottom line, the franchise quarterback has taken a beating for four seasons. I would challenge anyone, owner Jim Irsay, Grigson, Pagano, to debate that.
Look up the numbers, and don’t try to snow me on how today’s NFL has some of the shakiest O-line play we’ve seen in years. Sorry, but this isn’t about grading on a curve. This is about getting the most out of what could be a Hall of Fame career, and in the process, winning more than losing and, ultimately, celebrating after winning the season’s final game of the playoffs.
The Colts let Peyton Manning go so they could transition to another quarterback capable of delivering on those ultimate expectations. So many teams don’t have one guy who can get it done in two decades. The Colts have had two. They couldn’t be more lucky.
When Luck overcame his injuries to lead the Colts to a stirring 27-24 upset of the Denver Broncos about two weeks ago, he took only one sack. Grigson mentioned this first, of course, because it’s an acceptable number. Then he alluded to how Luck still got hit more than he should have been.
Ah, yeah, 11 quarterback hits/hurries. That’s according to the stat sheet. Who knows, maybe it was more.
That’s too much. And it’s always too much. And it’s wrong to just blame Luck, the popular thing for seemingly everyone to do this season. It’s amazing the amount of amnesia that develops when people just expect the kid to be tough and deal with it.
He’s having the worst season of his career? (Insert sarcasm.) Imagine that? How can that be? Geez, I wonder.
Yeah, taking nasty hits is an occupational hazard. But take enough of them and they add up. Take enough of them and eventually the body breaks. I’ve seen this time and time again with some of the toughest guys to ever play the game in two decades of covering the NFL.
Nobody gets out of the NFL unscathed. The goal, when given a gift from the football gods, should be to minimize as much as humanly possible the number of times Luck has to have his toughness tested.
That’s why Pagano’s comments after the Week 2 home loss to the New York Jets were so infuriating. Maybe the frustrated head coach was taking a veiled shot at Grigson’s inability to provide a decent O-line when he said Luck should be used to dealing with that by now, that “it’s not trigonometry.”
I was never good at math, let alone trigonometry. So let’s stick with simple numbers.
In his first three seasons, Luck look significantly more hits than any other quarterback in the league. Everyone who crunches numbers agrees on this.
According to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, Luck took 122 hits (including sacks) as a rookie. Simple math, that’s 41 sacks and 81 hits by his count.
In each of the past two seasons, the total hits plus sacks have been 115 by Kacsmar’s count. That means in 2013, it was 32 sacks and 83 hits. In 2014, 27 sacks and 88 hits.
This season in seven starts, he’s taken 57 hits (or hurries) in addition to 15 sacks based on my own research.
The Colts and stat geeks can differ on the numbers, but it’s fair to say they’re probably not off by much. And it emphasizes what I’ve been writing since late in Luck’s rookie year, when I blogged that he wasn’t himself, that he seemed a bit gun shy from the pounding he was taking.
I’ve continued to write that ever since. Like a Mother Hen worried about a baby chick’s safety in the turbulent waters of the NFL, I’ve beaten my fingers into the keyboard more times than I can remember about this. Earlier this season, an analysis reminded the Colts were still playing a dangerous game with their quarterback. Then he gets hurt. Sore shoulder, ribs, whatever it was, it qualified as the first serious injury of his career. Now he’s hurt even worse.
Sure, the latest painful shots could have been avoided if he slid. Or maybe not. Maybe he realized too late that sliding could have led to a nastier shot. The hope is that Luck, from this moment on, will be forever reminded of his mortality and try to be smarter for the remainder of his career.
But the Colts need someone in charge who understands with every single breath while getting paid rather well to do a job at West 56th Street that protecting Luck isn’t just a No. 1 priority. It’s a must. You figure out a way to get it done and continue to ensure it stays that way.
Grigson hasn’t figured it out yet. And worse yet, if he’s telling the truth by dismissing the latest injuries as merely part of the game, he’s missing the point on what has been a continual failure by this organization to realize what should be most important.
The delusional school of thought also included Grigson saying he sees progress in the O-line. Sorry, but that’s just wrong, too. The only progress so far has been after Pagano shuffled the line after two losses, which included sticking one of Grigson’s guys, offensive guard Todd Herremans, on the bench because he wasn’t getting it done.
No disrespect to backup Matt Hasselbeck — a smart $3 million insurance policy that Grigson deserves credit for securing — but the longer a team goes without a franchise quarterback like Luck, the less likely the team can accomplish much. Sure, the Colts can make the playoffs with their 40-year-old backup quarterback, but this team won’t make it to the Super Bowl. And lest anyone forget Mr. Irsay's offseason setting-the-bar expectation that his team should hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy at least twice in the Luck era.
No Luck, ultimately, will cost people jobs. For the first time since we started writing about Grigson and Pagano not getting along, I’m looking at Grigson before Pagano. And it should be added the GM didn't deny the reported friction between them.
But both should be ashamed for what they’ve said in downplaying the matter of Luck taking a beating. As much as Pagano was wrong to say what he did after that Week 2 loss, Grigson trumped him on Friday.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.