There's no pressure, Andrew Luck. Just take over the Indianapolis Colts' side of a thrilling rivalry with the New England Patriots.
Out-duel Tom Brady. Outwit Bill Belichick.
What could be simpler?
“I'm sort of being educated on the great rivalry of the past 10, 12 years or so between the two franchises,” Luck said. “Hopefully, we can continue that.”
Colts fans can rest assured Luck's studying is focused on defensive schemes and tricks of the Patriots, not past scores.
This week is a slightly past midterm exam for Luck and the Colts. They go on the road for an almost prime-time (4:25 p.m.) kickoff against the perennial Super Bowl-contending Patriots. It's a series that has been quite a duel between former Colts great Peyton Manning and Brady as opposing quarterbacks as well as Manning vs. Patriots coach Bill Belichick on a strategic basis.
Both teams are 6-3 this season with suspect pass defenses. It could be a quarterback-driven outcome, and no matter how much Luck has progressed, he's a rookie. Brady and Belichick are likely future Hall of Famers.
Fortunately for Luck, Colts interim coach Bruce Arians is well-versed in the Patriots from his time with the Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers.
“The biggest thing is don't try to put a bunch of stuff in there that (Luck) doesn't know,” Arians said. “They've always done a good job of disguising coverage and moving guys around. Just don't paralyze him by trying to overanalyze it. Just play football. It's really not that complicated.”
Belichick and his defensive coaches can make it appear complicated, however, and did so during several of Manning's first few games against the Patriots. The good news for Luck is the Patriots' defense, and the pass defense in particular, is far from vintage form.
The Patriots rank 29th in pass defense and gave up 31 points last week to the Buffalo Bills. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 27 of 40 passes for 337 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
To put it in simple terms that observers of Colts-Patriots can best relate, former secondary star Rodney Harrison is a studio analyst these days, and former linebacker Tedy Bruschi wrote in an ESPN mailbag piece, “Bruschi on Tap,” that he would attack the Patriots' defensive middle. He also said, of the Bills offense running up and down the field on New England, “This is who the New England Patriots are. Offensively, they look unstoppable at times. … Defensively, teams will gain yards.”
Of course, it's easier said than done for a rookie quarterback to walk into Gillette Stadium, hear the harsh roar of the hometown crowd and deliver a top-notch performance.
“I've gone against that defense many, many times and had our share of success and our share of failures,” Arians said. “I know how tough it is to try to get a win in Foxboro.”
The Colts' defense, of course, faces its own problems in dealing with Brady. He appears as sharp as ever, averaging 282.4 yards passing per game with 18 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
Indianapolis lost cornerback Jerraud Powers for the season with a toe injury, so even with Vontae Davis returning to the secondary, some combination of Cassius Vaughn and Darius Butler will need to come up big. It will help the Colts if Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are both healthy to pursue Brady, but any amount of time usually translates to Brady carving up young defensive backs.
“We don't want it to turn into a shootout,” Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. “We want to go out there defensively, build off what we did last week and go out there and make plays, create some turnovers, get off the field on third down and let Luck and them shoot the scoreboard up.”
Colts fans would love to see Luck shoot the scoreboard up.
Out-duel Brady. Outwit Belichick. Simple, right?