Should Pep Hamilton or Rob Chudzinski Run the Colts' Offense?

Which Luck is the better Luck: the gunslinger or the surgeon?

“With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth.” Robert Louis Stevenson penned these words in his Gothic novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but we can apply these thoughts to a much more modern case of duality: the to-date career of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

In his 2012 rookie campaign, Luck proved to be a great downfield thrower under the tutelage of former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. His 2013 season, however, showed him to be an efficient short and intermediate passer in a West Coast influenced offense while working with his former Stanford coach and incumbent offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton. An interesting question presented itself, however, when offensive mastermind Rob Chudzinksi was hired this offseason as an offensive special assistant. “Chud”, as he is affectionately known, is a major proponent of the vertical passing attack, making many wonder if we might see a high-powered, Arians-esque attack drawn up this year.

With these contrasting offensive influences, which side of Andrew Luck will emerge in 2014, and which is better for the Colts’ success?

Dual Identity

Our first goal is to figure out which offensive system benefited Andrew Luck more. The quarterback is obviously the key point of the passing game: without a competent passer under center, no scheme will function smoothly. Fortunately, we have data on an excellent young quarterback operating in two very different styles of offense, allowing us to directly compare them without hardly any guesswork.

To do this, we will utilize our signature Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. Here at numberFire, NEP measures the number of points a player adds or loses for his team. This contribution is measured in expected points on any given drive, and the total becomes our NEP score. We are most concerned with Passing NEP today - NEP that is gained or lost on any quarterback drop back. How has Luck fared in Passing NEP with two very different offenses?

The table below shows Luck’s career to date in terms of our NEP metrics, as well as his rankings in those metrics among quarterbacks with 100 or more drop backs.

YearCoordinatorPass NEPRankPass NEP/PRank
2012B. Arians36.6816th0.05t-16th
2013P. Hamilton41.7315th0.07t-16th

As you can see, Luck’s rankings among other quarterbacks may not have progressed much, but his performance actually became much more efficient when asked to play – well – efficiently. It’s important to note the 0.02 increase in Passing NEP per drop back; while this may seem very slight, this is a representation of the fact that Luck’s total value increase was sizable enough on 63 fewer drop backs in 2013 than 2012. Reducing the amount of pressure Luck was physically facing (having him get the ball out quicker) and mentally facing benefited his Passing NEP and the efficiency of that whole phase of offense greatly.

It’s also interesting to see that – while this isn’t displayed on the table – Luck’s rushing value also increased in Pep Hamilton’s offense. After ranking third among all quarterbacks in Rushing NEP (NEP gained solely on rushing attempts) in 2012, Luck was the second-ranked quarterback in the league in this metric in 2013. Again, the real tell is in the efficiency. Having posted an amazing mark of 0.58 Rushing NEP per attempt in 2012 (first among quarterbacks), Luck actually improved this per attempt value to 0.75.

Many have been decrying Hamilton’s shorter passes as holding Luck back from his true potential, but the numbers seem to indicate that Luck did progress from an efficiency standpoint during his sophomore year. But what about the offense as a whole? Is this West Coast mentality detracting from the Colts offensive potential?

“Mr. Hyde” or “Mr. Seek”?

This week, I released a study on the broader precision and vertical offensive tendencies, and whether or not one created more value for offenses than the other. The conclusion was that each had its strengths and weaknesses, but overall, the vertical attacks championed by coaches like Arians or Chudzinski led to more total value. Are the Colts also missing out on this immense value to be had if they would just unshackle Luck’s right arm?

To explore this, we need to compare the nitty-gritty historical results of each coordinator’s offenses. This table displays the opponent-adjusted team NEP averages of Rob Chudzinski’s offenses since 2007 (his time with Cleveland and Carolina) and Pep Hamilton’s only foray thus far into NFL coaching in 2013.

CoordinatorPass/RushPlaysAdj. NEPAdj. Pass NEPAdj. Rush NEP
R. Chudzinski1.381072.422.505.1022.98
P. Hamilton1.51109699.0333.1627.47

So much for “shackling” Luck. Pep Hamilton’s 2013 Colts ran about the same amount of plays as the average Chudzinski offense, and yet still threw the ball nearly 45 more times. The adjusted values of Hamilton’s team is also leaps and bounds ahead of Chudzinski’s: four times the total NEP, six times the Passing NEP, and five points more of Rush NEP – and that compares a horrendous Trent Richardson, an injured Ahmad Bradshaw, and a mediocre-at-best Donald Brown to the heyday of DeAngelo Williams.

Chudzinski’s numbers, in fairness, do include his dreadful 2013 Browns, who had an adjusted Passing NEP of -29.92. Yet, even when we remove that season from the mix, Chudzinski’s pass-to-run ratio drops further to 1.23, and the offensive value only increases marginally (37.90 adjusted NEP, 13.86 adjusted Passing NEP, 28.65 adjusted Rushing NEP). It’s clear that Hamilton’s offense just works, and while Chudzinski is a brilliant play-caller and offensive designer, Pep is creating a subtle masterpiece with the tools he has in front of him in Indy.

Seal Up My Confession

There are no two ways about it. Andrew Luck’s own value and efficiency increased with the transition from Arians to Hamilton. Part of that may be maturity and experience in the league, part of that may be comfort from a familiar system with his old college coach; but if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

We have seen steady progress from Luck and this entire Colts offense from Year 1 to Year 2 of the Luck Era, and one can only determine that Hamilton’s hand has much to do with it. Chudzinski as an offensive assistant should provide a new flavor and some interesting perspective to this developing and explosive offense, but suffer the Colts “to go their own dark way” until proven wrong.