For Seahawks and Colts fans it’s an argument as old as time, if that time is the last four and a half seasons. Both drafted in 2012 the careers of these young quarterbacks could not be more different so far, each are very different but equally talented, yet the conversation over who is the best rages on.
Together with fellow NFLGirlUK.com writer Gareth Duxbury who covers the AFC South, and thanks to a statement from a colleague that one quarter back had “done more with less”, we are going to examine which of the playmakers has had the toughest start to his career, in the hope that we can provide some alternative insight into the talents of these young players.
Head Coach – Advantage Wilson
Russell Wilson was brought into a good in Seattle to a team which had the nucleus of its side altogether and under no pressure to succeed immediately due to the free agent signing of Matt Flynn. Wilson, a third round pick won the job in training camp and took the side as far as the divisional round of the playoffs, losing to Atlanta. Pete Carroll is one of the better coaches in the league, using motivation and hard word as his main tool, which has been great for Wilson, understanding the pressure on himself and installing an excellent philosophy onto the young player.
Andrew Luck entered the league with first year HC Chuck Pagano as his fellow ‘rookie’ at the Colts, only for Pagano to be diagnosed with leukaemia and miss the majority of the season as he successfully fought the disease. In this time, Luck was given a long, long leash by aggressive OC and stand-in HC Bruce Arians. Pagano returned and has been at the helm ever since. Whilst the Colts went 11-5 for three straight years, in 2015 they regressed massively to 8-8, but played worse, with Luck out. Throughout the first four years it was Luck and the offense that often carried the defence, the background of Pagano. Usually conservative unless absolutely pushed into a corner, Pagano has made some high profile errors (we all recall the strangest fourth down ever with Griff Whalen under centre behind one lineman) and never been known as a top tier HC. In many ways, Luck has carried the coaching staff rather than the other way round.
#1 Target – Advantage Luck
Russell Wilson’s number one target is Doug Baldwin, once labelled pedestrian by pundits he has grown every season until in 2015 he found himself as the NFLs joint leading touchdown scorer. 2016 has seen a quiet start for Baldwin, partly due to last season’s success garnering him the attention of the opposition’s top cornerback such as Patrick Peterson, but also because of an injury to Russell Wilson, the offence has not clicked into gear just yet. That being said the Wilson to Baldwin connection seldom fails when attempted, you rarely see a drop and the pair had a quarterback rating of 139.9 in 2015
Andrew Luck came into the league with his No1 target, TY Hilton, with the two picked 91 spots apart. With Reggie Wayne in town, Hilton picked up the Colts play book quickly and amassed 861 yards in his rookie season (more than Wayne in his rookie year). In 2013, Wayne succumbed to injury and Hilton blew up. Primarily a ‘burner’ playing in the X position, Hilton made huge plays outside the numbers (he had a 4.34 40 at the Combine). In 2014, Luck and Hilton had their best year, Luck throwing for 4,761 yards and 40 TDs with 1,345 and 7 TDs of these went to Hilton, again primarily as a big play WR on the outside. 2015 saw Hilton continue to perform without Luck but in 2016 we’ve seen a maturation of Hilton and a more rounded game. Whilst the Colts are playing terribly, the Luck-Hilton connection is probably stronger than it’s ever been and Hilton is providing more of a multi-threat weapon being spread across the formation. How much of this is TY Hilton and how much is Luck can be debated but it is clear that Luck gives Hilton the opportunities to succeed.
Support from Defence – Advantage Wilson
Russell Wilson has all the support he could ever need from the defence. The number 1 stingiest group in football in terms of points for the last 4 years running has given Russell Wilson every opportunity to succeed by staying clean on their side of the ball, making the job of Wilson a whole lot easier by not having to constantly chase games. Since Wilson entered the league the Seahawks have lost by more than one score just once. The vast majority of the cap is allocated to stars such as Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Bobby Wagner, and deservedly so, this in turn means less money for the offence and particularly the offensive line, but it must be said Russell Wilson would be having a very different career without them.
Andrew Luck has a hot mess on the other side of the ball. I’ve written about the Colts D this season but there has been a complete lack of investment and mis-guided talent acquisition by the Colts during Luck’s tenure. As we are talking about the Seahawks and Wilson, it feels futile to write much as to why Luck has had less support from his Defence. This one feels clear as spring water bubbling from a remote, unspoilt glacier high above the clouds in the Swiss Alps.
Offensive Line – Advantage Luck
Since Russell Wilson entered the league he has seen 26 different players come and go from within his protection group. 3 of these players have tried different positions after failing in another, and has had 5 different centres to build that all-important rapport with. His strongest line from 2014 consisted of Russell Okung, James Carpenter, Max Unger, JR Sweezy and Breno Giacomini, all of these players are now on different teams and Russell Wilson plays behind a group that includes a former Cardinals back up, 2 rookies and a player who last year was playing college basketball, not only that the player – George Fant had not started an American Football game since Junior High.
Andrew Luck has suffered through a rotating cast of low draft picks and street free agents throughout his career. GM Ryan Grigson, as part of his master plan to tank his career, has managed to spectacularly miss on the O-line. One mainstay has been LT Anthony Castonzo drafted in the first round prior to Luck’s arrival. He has played erratically at times, and has missed time to injury, but has developed into a solid LT. However, since entering the league, Andrew Luck has been sacked 140 times!!! He has been sacked 31 times in 8 games this year and is still producing elite play and strong statistical play. Luck, like elite pocket passers (rather than dual threat/scramblers), overcomes the frailties of poor offensive line play. He transcends the lack of talent designed to protect him.
Strength of Division – Advantage Luck
During the time of Russell Wilson in Seattle the NFC West transformed itself into one of the worst divisions in football into one of the best. Every Championship game has had a team from the division involved be that Wilson’s Seahawks (twice), the 49ers (twice) or most recently the Arizona Cardinals. Even the Rams who have a reputation for being a 7-9 are one of the toughest teams to beat. For 6 games a year Russell Wilson comes up against it home and away battling for whatever slight advantage the team can gain by beating a divisional opponent.
Andrew Luck plays in a pretty weak division. Well, he plays in a division that vies for the poorest in the NFL on an annual basis. Even this season when all teams invested in their rosters, it has still managed to be a steaming pile of…compost which will ultimately save the earth. Trying to be positive here but even this avowed Luck eulogiser can’t even pretend to say Luck has an advantage here…
Offensive Coordinator – Advantage Wilson
Russell Wilson has spent his whole NFL career with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, giving Wilson this edge simply through consistency. During his rookie season they worked their way through the playbook throughout the season, opening up new plays only when he was ready, so as not to put too much pressure on the young third round picks shoulders. There is however now a school of thought that Wilson and the offence is hamstrung by Bevell and some rather bland play calling. In particular now that Marshawn Lynch has left the team and a transition has not taken place to take into account a lesser running game. Also the red zone seems to be a particular concern. Jimmy Graham was brought in to help in this area but inexplicably is rarely targeted, leaving fans pondering why spend so much money but not use him.
Andrew Luck had one of the most aggressive and QB-friendly OCs in the game (and if you don’t love him, whoever you follow in the NFL then I’m not sure you have a) a heart or b) a soul) Bruce Arians. Arians took on the HC role to cover for his long-time friend Chuck Pagano but he stayed close to Luck throughout his rookie year. Appointed HC of the Cardinals, Arians was replaced by Luck’s college OC/QB coach, Pep Hamilton, a relationship which yielded results but Hamilton’s conservative play-calling led to his departure in 2015 during Luck’s injury-riddled lost season and the slow, broken march of the brave but ultimately doomed Matt Hasselback. Now with Rob Chudinski at the helm it appears to this observer that Luck is carrying the offence rather than being inspired by the play-calling and the ingenuity of the OC. It has felt that way throughout his pro-career, in fact. Luck’s greatest successes come when he is given the reigns of the offense during ‘hurry-up’ or ‘no-huddle’ – essentially when the OC runs out of ideas, Luck takes over and things start to happen. Personally, I think Luck has dealt with a lot of ineffective coaching at OC and HC but his innate talent, akin to a young Peyton Manning in some respects, has led to his success.
Supporting Cast – Advantage Wilson
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are not overflowing with playmaking talent, but the edge must go to Wilson simply because of the game changing effect Marshawn Lynch had for the team during his prime. Since the recent transition from the focus of the offense being on the run Wilson’s form has been incredibly mixed. It can go from rudderless such as the game in Los Angeles this year, to record breaking, as was the game against Ben Roethlisburger last season. Wilson has the ability to make the best of any target, be that the excellent Jimmy Graham, the middling Jermaine Kearse, or UDFA signings such as Kasen Williams and Tanner McAvoy. The Seahawks supporting cast of play-makers are not household names, but they know how to get the best out of them.
Andrew Luck went from 2012 to 2016 without a running back breaking 100 yards in a game. Is there more that needs to be said? He has made mediocre WR talent look good and been let down by ineffective FA splashes (Trent Richardson, Andre Johnson) and draft busts. His quality blessed Coby Fleener during his four years in Indy, leading to a big money move to New Orleans. Third round pick Donte Moncrief has flashed and Luck has shown a great chemistry with him during their brief play together but 2015 first rounder Philip Dorsett couldn’t get healthy and looked out of place (for his price) until very recently. The Dorsett pick is endemic of Grigson’s tenure; a solid defensive pick was glaring at a time when everyone felt the Colts were on the verge, having got to the AFC Championship Game the season before. Luck, again, has done more with less. Outside of Luck and his No1 target Hilton, another offensive player hasn’t been nominated to Pro Bowl, let alone got a sniff of All-Pro during his four years there. That’s not on Luck, that’s on the Colts.
Andrew Luck is an elite pocket QB who commands the offence in the mould of Manning or Brady with the body and ‘make a play at all costs’ of Ben Roethlisberger. At this point, he isn’t quite any of the three but he has the potential, as he enters his prime, to reach those levels. However, he is being massively let down by the squad around him. In all honesty, he can only really be given the Strength of Division and No1 Target. The infrastructure around Andrew Luck is either relevant or succeeds because of him, not the other way around.
Russell Wilson’s style is almost a polar opposite, moving around and outside the pocket, keeping plays alive and finding creative ways to make yards from any situation. He has the ability to also play as a classic pocket quarterback, as seen somewhat in the Pro Bowl, but he is much happier putting the team on his back and being inventive. He has a Superbowl to his name already, which in fairness was as much to do with the fantastic defence and run game as it was Russell Wilson, though credit is certainly due.
It is clear that the first 4 and a half years has not been a cake-walk for either player, each with their own unique set of obstacles to overcome. But coming back to that phrase “done more with less”, it is probably by a small margin that Andrew Luck has ‘had less’ whereas Russell Wilson has broken touchdown and QB rating records and has a Superbowl ring, he has ‘done more’.
It is impossible to make that call, what is abundantly clear is that we are lucky to be able to watch some of the best young quarterbacks to come into the NFL at the same time. Wilson vs Luck may go down in history as the next Manning vs Brady – though playing much less being from different conferences. Let’s simply agree that they are both fantastic players and enjoy the good times.
Written by Duncan Terry and Gareth Duxbury
Picture Credit luckatluke.com