No, Matt Hasselbeck Shouldn't Take Andrew Luck's Starting Job

It's a ludicrous notion, just as head coach Chuck Pagano has said.

Matt Hasselbeck is 4-0 as the Indianapolis Colts' starting quarterback this season.

On the other hand, Andrew Luck is 2-5.

On Monday, head coach Chuck Pagano was quick to dismiss any thoughts that Hasselbeck may have supplanted Luck as the team’s starter once Luck returns from injury.

“I’m not even going to go there,” Pagano said, according to Stephen Holder of the Indy Star. “That’s ludicrous.”

Luck is currently recovering from a lacerated kidney and partial tear of an abdominal muscle, which he suffered during the Colts' Week 9 victory over the Broncos. Luck has been given a two-to-six week time frame for recovery and is tentatively expected back under center some time in mid-December.

Given  his uncommon injury, that's anything but a certainty.

With the way Hasselbeck has been playing, however, should the Colts stick with him even once Luck is ready to play?


That really is a ludicrous idea.

An Injury-Riddled Season for Luck

The Colts entered this season with high aspirations. The additions of Frank Gore and Andre Johnson led many to believe the Colts' offense could propel them deep into the playoffs.

While the Colts remain in contention to win the AFC South -- they’re tied with the Houston Texans for the division lead at 6-5 -- the season has been rocky since the start.

The Colts started off with consecutive losses to the Bills and Jets before upending the Titans in Week 3 for their first win. In the week following the victory, it was revealed that Luck was dealing with a shoulder injury -- an injury that would lead him to miss the next two games.

Hasselbeck subsequently led the Colts to victories over the Jaguars and Texans to get the team to 3-3.

Luck would return in Week 6, and over the next four games, the Colts would go 1-3, falling to the Saints, Patriots, and Panthers before defeating the then-undefeated Broncos in the game where Luck sustained the kidney injury.

With Luck again sidelined, Hasselbeck has since led the Colts to victories over the Falcons and Buccaneers.

Excelling in Relief

As Luck has battled through multiple injuries, the 40-year-old Hasselbeck -- a 17-year veteran -- has started his most games in a season since 2012 when he started five for the Titans.

With Hasselbeck, the Colts offense has been just as productive points-wise as it was with Luck under center. In the seven games started by Luck, the Colts have averaged 22.4 points per game. With Hasselbeck, the Colts have posted 23 points per game.

Here’s a closer look at some of the Colts' team stats under Hasselbeck and Luck:

Player Points/Game Yards/Game Attempts/Game Rush Attempts/Game Run %
Hasselbeck 23.0 315.3 27.0 23.8 36%
Luck 22.4 367.4 41.9 20.0 29%

Under Hasselbeck, the Colts have emphasized the run, running the ball on 36 percent of plays. With Luck, the Colts ran the ball 29 percent of the time. (Note: this excludes rushes by the quarterback.)

While the Colts have run the ball on a higher percentage of plays under Hasselbeck, that is not only a function of the Colts’ game plan but game flow. In the seven games started by Luck, the Colts’ opponents have averaged more than 27 points per game. In the four games started by Hasselbeck, the Colts’ opposition is averaging 16 points per game, allowing the Colts to employ a more run-heavy attack.

But an addendum to that point is that Luck’s performance has been a hindrance to the Colts defense this year, putting them in numerous difficult situations He’s turned the ball over 13 times, compared to only twice from Hasselbeck. 

Hasselbeck has had an easier go of it schedule-wise. His four opponents combine for a record of 21-23, good enough for a .477 winning percentage. Luck, on the other hand, has faced teams whom combine for a 47-30 record, or a .610 winning percentage.

An Individual Comparison

Individually, Hasselbeck has been playing more efficiently than Luck.

Player Yards/Game Passer Rating Passing NEP Passing NEP/Play   TD to INT
Hasselbeck 255.8 94.4 35.73 .23 7-2
Luck 268.7 74.9 24.5 .08 15-12

Hasselbeck ranks 20th among 39 quarterbacks in Passing  Net Expected Points (NEP) who have dropped back to pass 100 times or more this season. His 35.73 Passing NEP score places him five spots above Luck, who ranks 25th with a score of 24.5.

For comparison, Jameis Winston ranks 19th with a Passing NEP of 36.14. Sandwiched between Hasselbeck and Luck are, in order, Josh McCown, Matthew Stafford, Marcus Mariota, and Joe Flacco.

Hasselbeck is sixth (0.23) in Passing NEP per drop back. Luck (0.08) ranks 24th.

Hasselbeck has only thrown two interceptions in his four starts. Luck, on the other hand, has thrown 12 picks in his seven games. Additionally, Hasselbeck has posted a 94.4 passer rating, compared to Luck’s 74.9 rating. Despite throwing the ball nearly 15 fewer per game, Hasselbeck is averaging almost 256 yards per game passing, slightly fewer than Luck’s 269 yards per game.

Start Hasselbeck or Luck?

The Colts remain in the playoff hunt with five games to go, thanks to Hasselbeck leading the team to four wins.

But that doesn’t mean Hasselbeck gives the Colts their best chance to win moving forward, especially in the playoffs.

Just last season, Luck posted a Passing NEP score of 110.33, seventh best in the league among quarterbacks who attempted more than 250 pass plays.

Specifically, in the playoffs, Luck led the Colts to victories over the Bengals and Broncos where he completed 67 percent of his passes for 641 yards and 3 touchdowns with 2 interceptions. This was all before a brutal performance in a loss to the Patriots in the Conference Championship where he threw for only 126 yards and 2 picks with no touchdowns.

If Luck returns and is able to play, which remains up in the air because his injury is not one typically seen by football players, he should remain the starting quarterback.

Hasselbeck has played exceptionally well in relief this season, but he’s faced some unexceptional competition and he has done what a backup quarterback should be able to do -- albeit at an above-expectation level, per our metrics. He’s managed the game, played predominantly turnover-free football, and given his team a chance to win each week.

Look around the league, and you’ll see that not every team has that luxury.