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INDIANAPOLIS – Everyone knows the use of sports statistics can lie, distort and be manipulated in order to make a point.
But there are times statistics reveal some truths.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is a better player in Year 2 and better suited for the playoffs. Stats and testimonials agree.
“He's definitely stepped up his game, both as a player and a leader,” Colts running back Donald Brown said. “(He's) a lot more vocal this year.”
Luck had no choice but to step up. Not only did the Colts change offensive coordinators, switching from Bruce Arians to Luck's old college coordinator Pep Hamilton, but key offensive weapons dropped like flies, with Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw, Dwayne Allen and, the biggest blow of all, Reggie Wayne all seeing their seasons end with injury.
Luck had to run things, and he did so well, helping the Colts to 11 wins, an AFC South title and the playoffs, which kick off when the Colts host the Kansas City Chiefs at 4:35 p.m. Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I do feel like I have improved,” Luck said, “and I feel like this offense, this team has improved.”
Let's throw some statistics out for comparison, and this seems like a fairly legitimate comparison: Luck last season vs. Luck this season.
Hamilton's offense is different than Arians', more reliant on the running game and more conservative at times, although he has loosened things up over the last few games.
* Luck has thrown 57 fewer passes, but he's been more accurate, increasing his completion percentage from 54.1 to 60.2.
* Luck has thrown 23 touchdown passes, the same number as a year ago, yet without Wayne and Allen as targets.
* Luck has thrown nine interceptions, half as many as last season, a strong indication he's more careful with the ball. He still throws sometimes when he's about to be sacked, to varying degrees of success, but he's less likely to force one into traffic. (He's not flawless. He got away with a bad decision against Jacksonville, trying to hit T.Y. Hilton, who was double-teamed. Fortunately, the Colts were playing the Jaguars, so the pass hit the ground.)
* The Colts won 11 games, the same total as last season, but were 4-2 vs. playoff teams, beating the 49ers, Seahawks, Broncos and Chiefs and losing to the Chargers and Bengals. The Colts were 3-2 against playoff teams last season, beating the Vikings, Packers and Texans, and losing to the Patriots and Texans. Obviously, quarterbacks aren't solely responsible for wins, but they're always a major factor.
"I don't care what level, if you don't have a quarterback, we're probably not sitting here having this press conference," Colts coach Chuck Pagano told reporters Monday. "You got to have a quarterback in order to win at any level. It's obviously very comforting to know that we've got a great quarterback in Andrew and a guy that is obviously more than capable of leading this team to a world championship.”
Again, keeping in mind that stats can lie and distort, put Luck's number alongside New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's and see how similar they are in completion percentage (Brady 60.5, Luck 60.2), yards per passing attempt (Brady 6.92, Luck 6.71), touchdowns (Brady 25, Luck 23), interceptions. (Brady 11, Luck 9) and passer rating (Brady 87.3, Luck 87.0). Brady averaged 271 yards per game to Lucks' 239.
That's not to say Luck is in Brady's league. No one argues that yet. But it's an interesting measuring point for this season.
By any measure, Luck had a better season in his second year.
He should also be better prepared for the playoffs. The first game is friendlier, coming at home, and he has already played well against the Chiefs when the Colts won at Kansas City on Dec. 22.
A year ago, the Colts traveled to Baltimore. Luck ended up throwing 54 passes (an outrageous number), completing 28 and throwing one interception with no touchdowns.
“I remember you don't change a lot because certain things have gotten you this far, but there is a little bit of intensity and focus that ratchets up a bit,” Luck said. “You realize it's one-and-done and any team can beat any team on any given day.”
Luck said he'll still rely on the insight of the Colts' more grizzled vets.
“We'll lean on Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea and Reggie, because they've won the Super Bowl, they've been through the playoffs,” Luck said. “I remember talking to Reg last year about what it takes to go through the playoffs and we'll make sure we revisit those conversations.”
One final stat: Luck's playoff record is 0-1. That's too small a sample for insight, but adding to the first column would be a nice finishing touch to this season's obvious step forward.