Andrew Luck threw a touchdown pass on his first ever NFL throw. Good for him. Before we lose our heads over this, remember that the pass itself traveled about three yards in the air, Donald Brown made a great cut and took it the remaining 65 yards, it was the first preseason game of the year for both teams, and it was against the only team in the NFL last year who were arguably as bad as the Colts. It’s a good start, but I wouldn’t start clearing space for the Lombardi Trophies or writing his Hall of Fame acceptance speech quite yet. After all, Luck is still a rookie on a miserable team with a new head coach and general manager.
The Associated Press article on the Colts 38-3 win over the Rams made mention that Luck may have the most difficult job of any quarterback in the NFL.
I have to respectfully disagree with that statement because there are multiple quarterbacks right now who are in tougher situations than Luck.
Ryan Tannehill: He got drafted by an organization (Dolphins) that isn’t always the best run team in the NFL. They reached for him in the draft because they had no better option at quarterback, and he went to a team that also has a rookie first-time head coach. Also, he has to face the defending AFC Champions, the Bills and Mario Williams, and the Jets (who have a defensive-minded head coach), all twice a year. Even if the Jets are dysfunctional, they are still better than the Dolphins. He has a much more difficult road to success than Andrew Luck.
Mark Sanchez: Sanchez has to deal with sky-high expectations of him and his team, the best team in the AFC (Patriots) in his division, the relentless New York media, a cynical Jets fan base (and they have every reason to be cynical after the last thirty years of draft busts and having to suffer through the Rich Kotite era), a temperamental #1 receiver, no solid #2 receiver, and a limited offense. As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, the Jets sign Tim Tebow and promptly announce that he is going to play fifteen or more snaps a game, and that he is going to be the Jets’ ‘red zone quarterback’. So the Jets have signed a backup with a rabid irrational fan base that will support him no matter what, undermined their starter’s confidence, and given him no support system. The only positive thing that the Jets have done for Sanchez yet is giving him a contract extension during the offseason, but that can backfire as well if this situation does blow up and Sanchez wants out because that contract could make him tough to trade.
Robert Griffin III: Griffin does have some distinct advantages. He went to a better team than Luck did, and he is being coached by Mike Shanahan whose only unsuccessful coaching stop was a year and a half stint with the Raiders that everybody has basically forgotten after he won three Super Bowls (one as an offensive coordinator with the 49ers). What Griffin does not have going for him is being in arguably the toughest division in football, a fan base that is totally focused on nothing else besides Redskins football (which can make them have unreasonable expectations), and a tougher local media to deal with than Luck. Griffin has to play against Philadelphia, Dallas, and the Giants twice a year, while Luck has to play Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Houston. Luck just has an easier road than Griffin.
There is also one major factor here that gives Andrew Luck a pass for this year and maybe even next: The Colts hit rock-bottom last year. In my opinion, they were right up there with the 1980 Saints, 1984/85 Bills, 1990 Patriots, 1991 Colts, 1996 Jets, and 2008 Lions for the title of worst team in modern NFL history*. The Redskins, Jets, and Dolphins still were at least respectable (though, not necessarily in every game). Expectations for this year’s Colts team are about as low as they can be. Luck can throw thirty interceptions this year, and that will be OK as long as there is potential and the Colts are competitive at least some of the time. Sanchez, Griffin, and Tannehill just don’t have that luxury. I believe Griffin will be a success, but it will take time and be a more difficult road than the one Luck has ahead of him.
*I don’t include the 1976 Bucs on this list because they were an expansion team that basically started the season with the disadvantage of only being allotted a bunch of miserable free agents no one else wanted.