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Saturday, September 24, 2011
How is Andrew Luck distributing the ball?

By Kevin Gemmell

Three games into Stanford's 2011 season, some interesting statistical trends are starting to emerge for the No. 5 Cardinal -- and specifically quarterback Andrew Luck.

The Heisman leader in the clubhouse through the first quarter of the season has completed 57 of 85 passes for 786 yards, eight touchdowns, one interception with a completion percentage of 67.1 percent. All respectable, learning toward impressive, numbers.

We know about the tight ends -- aka, the towering trio. We also know that Luck lost his leading receivers from last season, Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen.

Stanford's Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck has completed 67.1 percent of his passes, but what receiving group is he having the most success with?
I'm a fan of statistics, yet I also realize that number-crunching never tells the whole story. But I do believe it can give you a nice glimpse into the personality of a team. So armed with the Numbers app on my iPad and a sense of curiousity and adventure, I set out to examine just how Luck is distributing the ball.

The target group has been separated into three categories: wide receivers, tight ends and running backs (which includes the fullback). Note: All stats are for Luck only and not the backup quarterbacks. For example, tight end Coby Fleener has six catches for 136 yards and a touchdown on the season. But for our purposes, he has five catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns which came from Luck.

THE TARGET GROUPS

Of Luck's 85 passing attempts, the wide receivers have been targeted 40 times (47 percent), the tight ends have been targeted 27 times (32 percent) and the backs have been targeted 17 times (20 percent). One of Luck's pass attempts did not have a clear target and is undefined (1 percent).

Right off the bat, this clearly tells us Luck's first looks have primarily been to the wide receivers. And no one has gotten more looks than Chris Owusu. The receiver has been targeted 24 times and has 16 catches (catches the ball 66 percent of the time it's thrown to him). Receiver Griff Whalen is third on the team with 12 targets, but has just six catches (50 percent).

As a group, the receivers have 24 catches to go with their 40 targets (60 percent). That's a lot of calories being burned on the wide receivers with not a lot of payoff. Owusu has the lone receiving touchdown for the group (13 percent of Luck's total touchdowns). As a unit, the receivers have 312 receiving yards (40 percent of Luck's total).

The tight ends, as you'd expect, have delivered the most bang for Luck's buck. Luck has targeted the tight ends 27 times and the unit has 18 receptions (66 percent). The trio has 326 receiving yards (41 percent of Luck's total) and six touchdowns (75 percent of Luck's total). Zach Ertz has received the most looks, 14 targets and nine catches (64 percent), followed by Fleener's seven targets and five catches (71 percent) and Levine Toilolo, six targets and four catches (66 percent).

The running backs are only targeted 20 percent of the time, but have the highest completion percentage of the three groups for obvious reasons -- shorter, higher-percentage passes. The backs have been targeted 17 times and have 15 catches (88 percent). Interesting to see that fullback Ryan Hewitt has been targeted 10 times -- more than all of the other running backs combined (Stepfan Taylor three, Tyler Gaffney two, Jeremy Stewart one, Anthony Wilkerson one). Hewitt has the only receiving touchdown from the running backs.

Luck is putting in the effort to get the ball to the wide receivers. But the results haven't been as successful as when he throws to tight ends. There have been a few drops and a few throw-aways by Luck, which all factors in. Remember, stats don't tell the whole story. But it's an interesting look into the passing game three games into the season.