Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck leaves the field following an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Indianapolis, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. The Colts defeated the Bill 20-13. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Updated: January 3, 2013 11:02AM
DETROIT — Matthew Stafford has slipped statistically since last season. The Detroit Lions have, too, where it matters most: the standings.
Not so for the Indianapolis Colts, thanks to another top overall draft pick, Andrew Luck.
Luck, is making all the right moves with his arm and feet to help the Indianapolis Colts be surprisingly successful. His stats are misleading: the 7-4 record after a 2-14 season should be the focal point.
Luck’s passer rating ranks 29th in the league. He’s completing a relatively modest 57 percent of his passes, in part because he’s asked to take a lot of shots down the field. Luck has 3,205 yards passing, an NFL record for a rookie through 11 games, with 13 TDs and 13 interceptions.
Stafford, the No. 1 draft choice in 2009, has been impressed with what he’s seen of Luck.
“We’ve played a lot of the same teams they’ve played this year, so we’ve been able to see a lot of his tape,” Stafford said. “He’s a really talented player. He’s a big, physical kid. I think that’s one of the things that is underestimated about him.
“He’s obviously learning in this league and he knows it, which is half the battle. He’s one of those guys that as a rookie, he knows he doesn’t know it all. But he’s learning fast and he’s really got that team believing in him.”
If the Luck-led Colts win Sunday, he will have more wins than any rookie QB drafted No. 1 overall in the Super Bowl era. Luck currently shares the mark with Sam Bradford, who helped St. Louis win seven games two years ago; that surpassed a mark set by Jim Plunkett in New England during the 1971 season.
To have success in Detroit, though, Luck will likely have to stop a trend. He has thrown 10 of his 13 interceptions away from Indy.
“We’ve turned the ball over a lot on the road and that’s something we can’t do if we want to have a chance to win versus the Lions,” he said.
Interim coach Bruce Arians has no doubt Luck can figure it out.
The Colts knew the former Stanford star had talent, was smart and was a hard worker. Arians, though, said they didn’t know if he had the grit and guts needed to lead a huddle. They found out Luck owns those intangibles, too, last spring during a minicamp when he was blitzed early and often.
“I said, ‘What was it like?’” Arians recalled asking Luck. “He said, ‘Felt like I was in a tsunami. I don’t think I drowned, but I was real close.’ So, he came in, he watched the tape and he looked at me and said, ‘That’s really easy.’
“The next time we had that drill he lit them up. I said, ‘We got a keeper.’”
Stafford’s quarterback rating is tied for 22nd with slumping second-year pro Cam Newton one year after he ranked No. 5 in the category that combines completion percentage, yards passing, TDs and interceptions.
Detroit (4-7) shouldn’t and won’t blame all of its woes during a disappointing season on the No. 1 overall pick from the 2009 draft a year after he helped the franchise end an 11-year postseason drought with a fantastic season. But by any measure other than yards through the air, Stafford has struggled to match last season.
He is completing 60-plus percent and has thrown for 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, connecting on fewer attempts on average with much less production compared to last year, when he threw for 41 scores and 16 interceptions.
Thanks in part to throwing an NFL-high 488 times, and having receiver Calvin Johnson on his team, he leads the league with 3,429 yards passing.
Stafford, though, seems to be missing many passes he used to make — throwing low, high, left and right of targets — and yet the fourth-year pro insists he’s not seeing that when he studies himself on film.
“I feel like I’m throwing it to pretty good spots,” he said. “I think my completion is down about 3 percent. There are a lot of factors that go into that, but the season is not over, either.
“Last year stats-wise, I had a really good year. I don’t feel like I’m having a terrible stats year, not that I really care about it, but I’m trying to do whatever it takes for our team to win and we haven’t done that enough.”
Like the Colts with Luck, the Lions have thought they got a good one when they drafted Stafford and have not second-guessed themselves since making that selection.
After two injury-shortened seasons, the former Georgia star has stayed healthy. He has also been pretty productive this year even if he hasn’t been able to follow up his breakout 2011 very well.
“Am I wrong to suggest that he’s on track for almost 5,000 yards?” Lions president Tom Lewand said. “I wouldn’t look necessarily to any one person on this team, one player, one coach. It is a fiercely competitive game. We haven’t made plays at some times where we needed to make plays and that’s been different people in different circumstances at different times.
“I certainly wouldn’t jump to any conclusions about where any one player is or isn’t in terms of his development based on a very small sample size.”