Colts’ QB coach: Andrew Luck ‘should not be a double-digit interception guy’

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Andrew Luck

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The number to keep in mind as Andrew Luck heads into his sixth NFL season: nine.

That’s the target Brian Schottenheimer, the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterbacks coach, has for his prized pupil and the franchise’s most indispensible player.

Nine interceptions. Tops.

It’s a figure Luck has reached once in his first five NFL seasons – 2013, when he finished with nine to go along with 23 touchdown passes – and one that, according to Schottenheimer, should be his ceiling for wayward passes.

“We say this all the time: Andrew should not be a double-digit interception guy,’’ Schottenheimer said this spring. “That’s the phrase we use. He’s just too good of a player.

“If he can eliminate some of those decision interceptions – I think there’s five or six – those numbers drop significantly.’’

Before we delve any deeper into Schottenheimer’s target figure for Luck, it’s worth considering Luck’s five-year history.

The perception is he’s a turnover machine, a gunslinger whose stubbornness in the pocket too often leads to forced passes or passes that are off target because they’re delivered while he’s being jostled by a defender.

Fact: Luck has suffered 68 interceptions in 70 starts. Since his arrival in 2012, that’s tied for the sixth-most. Eli Manning has a league-high 86 over the past five seasons. And consider the company Luck is keeping. Quarterbacks with at least 68 since ’12 include Manning, Philip Rivers (78), Drew Brees (74), Joe Flacco (71), Matthew Stafford (71), Andy Dalton (68) and Matt Ryan (68).

  • Fact: Quarterbacks suffer interceptions. They come with the territory. Generally, aggressive QBs suffer more than their cautious peers, although there are exceptions with Peyton Manning (53 since ’12), Tom Brady (37) and Aaron Rodgers (34).
  • Fact: Luck’s interception percentage (2.6, 68 on 2,651 attempts) ranks smack dab in the middle of the pack. Peyton Manning is a tad better (2.4 percent). Brady and Rodgers are ridiculously better (1.3 percent each). Dalton (2.7), Rivers (2.7) and Eli Manning (3.0) are slightly worse.
  • Fact: While Luck’s not the pick-producer so many believe, he can be more protective of the football when delivering it to T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief or Jack Doyle. He can lessen the number of “bonehead’’ plays – Luck’s description – over the course of a season by making better decisions.

Former position coach Clyde Christensen spent four seasons trying to instill in Luck when enough was enough. Yes, be aggressive and push the ball down the field. Yes, move around in the pocket and give your receivers an opportunity to shake free. But realize when the play’s over and don’t force things.

That became Schottenheimer’s task last season, and it appears Luck was a willing pupil.

While dealing with a labrum injury to his right shoulder that required January surgery and forced him to miss the Colts’ offseason work – Luck said Tuesday he still hasn’t started throwing during his rehab – Luck enjoyed one of his most efficient seasons. He set career highs in completion percentage (63.5) and yards per attempt (7.8). He was fifth in the league with 31 touchdown passes despite missing one game, and finished with 13 interceptions.

Much of the post-2016 video study focused on those 13 interceptions.

“One of the first cut-ups he wanted to watch was his interceptions,’’ Schottenheimer said. “It was ‘I want to watch the interception reel and look at the mistakes I made.’ That’s what I love about the guy.

“You’re going to throw interceptions. It just happens. Normally they’re bad throws that cause those, but if we can eliminate the (bad) decisions, that obviously will help him drop the number down.’’

To less than 10?

“That’s kind of the number we’ve been using,’’ Schottenheimer said. “He should throw seven, eight.’’

Of Luck’s 13 interceptions last season, Schottenheimer surmises five or six were the result of “decision throws.’’

“He’s trying to force an over-route against Jacksonville (in week 17) with a free rusher coming on him and (Telvin Smith) intercepts him,’’ he said. “There’s a handful like that. At Green Bay, he kind of gets spun and the ball goes short. The ball gets tipped up on one. Against Jacksonville in London, they run a little game. He’s throwing the slant, he gets hit and the ball gets intercepted by (Yannick Ngakoue).

“The thing he can control, obviously, is the decisions. Number one, throw the ball where you’re supposed to throw it. Number two, make accurate throws.’’

Luck and Peyton Manning are forever linked and compared. So here’s another comparison after the five-year mark: In 10 more starts, Manning had 138 TDs and 100 interceptions while Luck has 132 and 68.

Manning elevated his game from pretty-darned-good to elite in year 6 under the guidance of coach Tony Dungy and position coach Jim Caldwell. His interception totals over the next four seasons: 10, 9, 9, 9.

While certain statistics can be misleading, others are glaring. The Colts are 23-4 when Luck doesn’t suffer an interception, 37-14 when he has one or fewer. They’re 6-13 when he has more than two in a game.

The key always has been for Luck to remain aggressive, but more vigilant in protecting the football.

“You’re not gonna coach the aggressiveness out of him,’’ said general manager Chris Ballard, adding “more games are lost than won on Sunday, just turning the football over. Our staff’s not gonna coach the instincts our of Andrew.

“He’s gotta play.’’

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