Andrew Luck almost caught a touchdown pass last Sunday in the first quarter of the Colts’ 38-10 beatdown of the Titans. He was thiiiiiiiiiiis close. It happened again this week, against the Dolphins.
Seems like a fun thing, right? That’s what I thought, but somehow this turned out to be one of those things, like everything else, that people had a lot of opinions about online.
Your reaction to sight of Luck gracefully stretching out his lanky awkward body only to come up just a few inches short of his first ever touchdown reception says a lot about you. Hell, it may be just as accurate of a personality test as those old Facebook quizzes that eventually wound up fueling Cambridge Analytica’s plans to undermine democracy. Fun!
The pass he caught against the Dolphins was less spectacular, but it did result in a first down.
First, a little background.
You probably remember this play from the Super Bowl — the Philly Special. The Eagles, sitting on a three-point lead over the Patriots with about thirty minutes left in the game, dialed up a tricky little fourth down play that hid Nick Foles out behind the right tackle while the ball was snapped directly to running back Corey Clement. He fakes a run to the left, and flicks the ball to tight end Trey Burton who throws it to Foles in the end zone. Here’s a rich and full breakdown of that play.
Colts head coach Frank Reich was the offensive coordinator for that Eagles team, so you can imagine the play holds a special place in his heart.
The Colts had a third-and-4 on the Titans’ four-yard line with just over 11 minutes left in the second quarter with a 7-0 lead. This time Eric Ebron got the ball, but throw to Luck was just about three inches too far in front of him. Well, maybe further than that, but Luck’s artful extension for the ball made it look closer than it was.
See for yourself.
Yep. @Ebron85 almost just threw a TD to Andrew Luck— NFL (@NFL) November 18, 2018
: CBS #Colts pic.twitter.com/6r2ZOluZV8
Knowing the backstory and having seen the play again, how does this make you feel?
WHY!? What is wrong with you?! The man just got over two-year shoulder injury, and you’re making him dive for trick plays?
I am sorry you’re constipated.
I’m kidding — a little. You can totally be forgiven if you winced at the image of Luck landing on the shoulder that almost ended his career.
Yes, Luck had a chance to re-injure his shoulder on that play, but he takes that risk every time he reaches the end of a snap count and speedy pass rushers come flying toward him. Fortunately for him, that’s not happening this season nearly as much as it used to. This was the fifth game in a row that he hasn’t been sacked.
You’re probably arguing now that “football’s a dangerous sport” is not a satisfactory explanation because this was an added risk on top of his normal job.
But here’s the thing: Coming into this game, the Titans had the stingiest defense in the league, allowing an average barely over 16 points per game. Reich is paid to win football games (a simple fact that escapes many NFL coaches, cough cough Jason Garrett), and he needs points to do that.
They ended up having to settle for the field goal when that play didn’t work out. Still, the risk was worth it against a defense with a track record of snuffing out offense. A 7-0 lead at that point was just too thin of a margin to live with. Sometimes, you need to take the risk, i.e. play to win a football game.
Your heart skipping a beat is perfectly normal here. However, if you’re really mad about it online, just know that constipation is treatable and it’s worth remembering that some risk is not only acceptable, but essential. You can learn to enjoy life again.
Neat, but why take the ball OUT of Luck’s hands on a third down at the goal line?
Classic over-thinker. I’m right there with you, most of the time.
But this wasn’t just randomly dialed up to do something different. It was a calculated move that Reich said after the game they’ve been working on for awhile. The play is difficult for a defense in man coverage to defend. Reich knew that.
Reich: 'I wanted that for Ebron. Same play you've seen the Patriots run a couple times. Those plays work vs. man coverage. Ebron made a pretty good throw. (He'd be tough to live with if he made a TD throw.) Yeah, maybe the Lord showed mercy.'— Nat Newell (@NatJNewell) November 18, 2018
Are there other ways to beat man coverage? Sure. But there are fewer option in the toolbox to use when the field’s compressed as tightly as it is at the goal line like that. It’s also worth pointing out that Reich has done this before, so he kinda knows the percentages on this play.
The Titans are one of the best teams in the NFL at defending tight ends, sixth best according to Football Outsiders. They had a man shadowing Ebron all day. Probably a smart move after three-touchdown day last week against the Jaguars, who also have a pretty good defense. When you watch the play again, you can see the man assigned to Ebron frozen when the running back flips the ball to the tight end.
It’s good that you play the percentages, but the numbers here actually support Reich’s decision to turn Luck into a receiver for one play.
You’re not a risk-taker, but you’re constantly trying to engineer the most sensible outcome. There is nothing wrong with that. If you have to choose between kind of dull and Puritanically uptight, pick the gray suit every time.
But there’s another way.
Awesome! I loved it. Let’s see more of that magic stuff, Coach Reich!
You remembered that football is entertainment. You’d rather see teams try to score points instead of a short run here and there to get you into the best spot for a field goal kick. There’s just not enough of this in the game today.
Andrew Luck enjoyed it too, even though he didn’t actually catch it.
“I gave it my best effort, and I’ll retire as a wide receiver,” he said after the game, dorky smile plastered across his face.
Welcome to team fun. We’re glad you’re here.