By Tom James Tribune-Star correspondent
Greensburg Daily News
---- — INDIANAPOLIS – When it came time to decide on who would be the offensive and defensive Most Valuable Players for the 2013 Indianapolis Colts, the options were relatively simple.
On offense, the overall consistency of quarterback Andrew Luck and the re-emergence of running back Donald Brown dominated most conversations. Defensively, it was pretty much a one-man race with outside linebacker Robert Mathis leading the way although inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman and safety Antoine Bethea were certainly mentioned as well.
But when it all said and done, Luck and Mathis were relatively obvious selections. The young signal caller and the veteran pass rusher.
Hands down, they were the primary difference makers for a Colts team that battled through a season with injuries to key players on both sides of the ball and wound up with an 11-5 record and a perfect 6-0 mark in the AFC South.
ANDREW LUCK: 2013 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS OFFENSIVE MVP
Luck guided an offense that played most of the year without the services of running backs Vick Ballard (knee) and Ahmad Bradshaw (neck), tight end Dwayne Allen (hip), offensive guard Donald Thomas (quad) and wide receiver Reggie Wayne (knee).
Losing any one of those players would have had an effect on the Colts, but missing all five was a major blow to the plans of first-year offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Not having Allen or Wayne very nearly paralyzed the team’s passing attack. No Ballard, Bradshaw or Thomas put a crimp in Hamilton’s plans to install a power running game.
Still, despite all the personnel losses, Luck persevered. No, he prospered.
How much? He completed 343-of-570 passes for 3,822 yards, 23 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. Luck also finished as the team’s third-leading rusher with 377 yards and four TDs. Not a bad second season for Indianapolis’ 2012 No. 1 draft pick.
Hamilton, who had worked with Luck as an assistant coach at Stanford, hasn’t been surprised by the quarterback’s progress this season. Even under difficult circumstances.
“Well, I think the quarterback position is ultimately evaluated upon how many wins and losses you have at the end of the year. And I think if you look at where we are and the opportunity that we’ll have to compete in the postseason, I would say I would give him an ‘A’ or a ‘thumbs up,’ “ the Colts coordinator voiced, adding that Luck’s improvement in reducing turnovers has been a major reason for the offense’s success over the last month of the year.
“Out motto is to not waste plays, to eliminate friendly fire, to not beat ourselves. Fortunately for us, [Luck] touches the ball on every offensive snap and he’s been making good decisions and he’s done a good job of managing bad plays. So I think it’s a testament to not only Andrew but the rest of the guys on our offensive unit are buying in to protecting the football.”
His ability to extend plays as a runner has also been impressive. While the Colts coaching staff would prefer that Luck stay in the pocket as much as possible, they don’t mind the occasional instances where he keeps offensive drives alive with his legs.
“Well, it forces the defense to have to defend a different dimension, from an offensive standpoint anyway. We have a two-hitch rule in place. We don’t want the quarterback holding on to the ball for a long time in the pocket. That’s hazardous to his health,” Hamilton explained.
“He’s fortunate and we’re fortunate to have a guy that’s athletic enough to extend plays and manage bad plays. And if that’s pulling the ball down and running for the first down and sliding, then we’re excited for him to continue doing that.”
ROBERT MATHIS: 2013 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS DEFENSIVE MVP
As a fifth-round draft pick out of Alabama A&M in 2003, the undersized Mathis was a bit of a mystery to the Colts coaching staff and the media who cover the team.
Quiet and unassuming, everybody wanted to know exactly where the Indianapolis coaching staff was going to play him. At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, was he an outside linebacker? Could he play with his hand on the ground as a defensive end in Tony Dungy’s Cover 2 defensive scheme?
Former Indianapolis team president/general manager Bill Polian wanted to Dungy to use him as a linebacker. But the Colts head coach saw Mathis as a perfect complement to Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney. Dungy won out.
Now, 11 years later, Mathis is the National Football League’s sack leader. He recorded a franchise single-season record 19.5 sacks in 2013 and was the team’s lone pick to the Pro Bowl.
“He’s Hall of Fame from my standpoint. He’s just the type of player that if he was playing the Rush end for all the years that he’s been playing defensive end, he would probably have a lot more sacks, just [my opinion] personally,” defensive coordinator Greg Manusky praises.
“I think he’s just a great guy, great football player, great ability and just top notch.”
How good is Mathis? Manusky, who once served as the San Diego Chargers’ defensive coordinator, will tell you.
“I coached [linebacker] Junior (Seau] two years in San Diego. His motor was always revved up every practice, every game. He practiced the way he played and that’s what Robert does,” he said. “The good ones do that and usually they play well.”
It’s been a long trip for Mathis, who came into this season with a pretty hefty chip on his broad shoulders. He had read and heard that some observers thought he couldn’t be as productive without having former teammate Freeney lining up on the opposite side of the Indianapolis defensive line.
“It’s hard to get sacks in this league. To be able to get to double digits, to get to 10 sacks is a feat. Being able to get to 19 is way out there. I just feel blessed, honored and just thankful for it,” he said, admitting that he it would mean a lot if he were to earn NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
“It’s all well and good. That has to just transform into postseason success. So whatever, got to play within the framework of the defense. They look at me to get after the quarterback and I was able to do that a few times this year, so it just has to continue in the postseason. [Winning Defensive Player of the Year] would mean a lot. It’s definitely something coming in as a rookie that you couldn’t foresee, just trying to make the team. But hard work pays off and I got a lot of teammates that I was able to lean on this year and they were able to help get to this spot right now.”