Andrew Luck capped his first half-season in the NFL with an indisputably great performance Sunday, as his 433 passing yards on 48 attempts (9.0 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns pushed the Colts past the Dolphins, 23-20. The victory pushed what was a hapless Indianapolis team last season to 5-3 and into the playoff hunt. It's unclear if the Colts can keep riding so high -- they rank just 26th in our efficiency ratings and NumberFire has them in the playoffs in 51.5 percent of simulations.
Luck's sharp performance goes beyond just Week 9's effort. He'll enter Week 10 ranked fourth in WPA, eighth in EPA and ninth in EPA per play. His only advanced stat blemish might be his 5.4 AYPA, tied for 16th with Ryan Tannehill and Joe Flacco, stemming from his 30th-place 56.5 percent completion rate. But given the weight placed on Luck's shoulders in this Indianapolis offense -- his 336 attempts rank third in the league.
Given the 14 brilliant years of service Peyton Manning gave the Colts prior to his neck injury and subsequent release, the former Colts All-Pro will constantly be used as a measuring stick for Luck. Just looking at the rookie years, one would imagine Luck will become the greatest quarterback ever. Manning threw a whopping 28 interceptions (4.9 percent of passes) in year one and managed a rough 4.0 AYPA. Many players have posted superior rookie seasons leading into less-than-Hall-of-Fame careers. See, for example, Neil O'Donnell, Jim McMahon, Joe Flacco and Jake Plummer.
As such, it may be more educational to compare Luck to Manning's Colts career as a whole -- or at least the 12 seasons worth of data we have here at Advanced NFL Stats (dating back to 2000). Luck's games are in light blue, Manning's games are in gray and Manning's averages are in Bronco Orange.
Luck's numbers in the counting statistics -- WPA, EPA, passing yards -- have been superior to Manning's career averages in four to five of his first eight starts, a tremendous feat for the rookie. His Week 9 performance was particularly notable -- his 0.84 WPA, 23.1 EPA and 438 yards all rank in the top 10 percent of Manning's career games, with the WPA and yards ranking fifth and fourth respectively. Despite the low completion percentages, Luck is only lagging a short bit behind Manning in the efficiency statistics. His 0.18 EPA/P is just seven points off Manning's career mark. His AYPA lags a full yard below Manning's but is largely dragged down by two poor performances (losses to Kansas City and New Jersey). And although Manning had a huge workload for a quarterback -- he led the NFL in attempts twice in his career and was routinely over 500 per season -- Luck's workload has been high even by Manning's standards:
Luck is on pace for 672 pass attempts this season, over 80 more than all but Manning's 2010 season, when he led the league in both attempts (679) and completions (450). Surely this is part of the way the league is shifting -- both the rules and the quality of quarterbacks have forced a shift towards more passing. Still, many quarterbacks would struggle if forced to throw as often as Luck has, and for the rookie to maintain a level of efficiency anywhere near where Manning was throughout his Colts' tenure is impressive.
Obviously, development is necessary -- his completion percentage is just 86 percent that of the average NFL quarterback, according to Pro-Football-Reference. But Luck has both himself and the Colts well ahead of where many expected coming into the season. In the shadow of Peyton Manning, Luck has not just survived, but he is thriving.