As Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick dropped back and threw a duck in the direction of Devin McCourty last Sunday, a long, unified sigh of relief collectively exited the confines of Gillette Stadium.
The struggles of a defense as fickle as New England had pulled out yet another nail-biter and were once again sitting at, or at least near, the top of the AFC. The bend-but-don’t-break approach had prevailed once more, and, while shaken, the faith of Patriots faithful had been restored even if only fleetingly.
The Patriots may not be so fortunate this weekend, though, as the incoming opposition possess their own bit of “Luck,” if you catch my drift.
Andrew Luck has been a phenom in the making since his sophomore year at Stanford. He was anointed the chosen one even before deciding to leave the comforts of Palo Alto, Calif. and has more than exceeded the hype through his first nine NFL games.
Luck hasn’t been the most efficient or precise quarterback over the course of a relatively easy schedule thus far, but he’s improving and even more importantly, the Colts are winning.
At 6-3, the Colts enter Gillette a much different team than last season. That Colts team didn’t possess the same sort of talent, or the poised quarterback set to take the field on Sunday. Yet the Patriots still struggled to put Indy away in an almost too-close-for-comfort 31-24 win last season.
That loss sent Indianapolis to a then league-worst 0-12 on the 2011 season, and eventually solidified the No. 1 pick in April’s draft — which coincidentally brought Luck. But the manhandling of the Patriots secondary by journeyman quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who completed 30 of 37 passes for 353 yards, has to provide them with some added confidence heading into New England this weekend.
But if there is any sense of extra confidence or faith against what might be the league’s worst secondary, the Colts certainly aren’t showing their hand.
“I think they do a great job of mixing up coverages and disguising coverages so it’s hard to get a beat on what they’re doing,” Luck said glowingly of the Patriots secondary. “They’ve been banged up here and there but they’ve done a great job of getting the job done. Sunday will be a very tough test for us.”
But the praise for the Patriots defense didn’t stop there. Luck just continued to pile on the compliments on Wednesday, making sure to commend the Patriots front seven for their efforts as well.
“I think their front four is incredibly stout. [Vince] Wilfork is one of the best nose tackles/interior guys in the League,” Luck added. “And two, they have very good edge rushers on the sides. They do get to the quarterback and even if it’s not a sack, they sort of harass, force a quarterback out of the pocket.”
Now, whether or not Luck is employing some sort of Jedi mind trick to try and catch his opposition off guards or if he’s merely pulling a page of the Patriots own playbook and killing them with kindness is yes to be seen, but the kind and thoughtful words seem a bit curious.
Wilfork undoubtedly deserves the credit. He’s one of the best defensive lineman in football. But maybe Luck is seeing something in this Patriots secondary that many are missing during the games. Because while there is endless amounts of talent, and Aqib Talib should only add to that with his imminent debut, the results just haven’t been there this season.
If mediocre quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Russell Wilson and Fitzpatrick have had field days against this secondary, then the outlook for Luck must be far brighter. Not only is Luck a more skilled quarterback than the pedestrians listed above, but he’s also a much better decision maker and a far superior athlete. Oh, and Reggie Wayne certainly doesn’t hurt either.
That combination of traits makes Luck more than just a threat against a middling Patriots defense. Aside from Peyton Manning, who just happens to be Luck’s predecessor in Indy, the 23-year-old kid might be the best quarterback the Patriots have faced on the season. Sorry, Joe Flacco and Sam Bradford, but sometimes the truth just hurts.
So, between a prodigy quarterback rapidly maturing and a porous secondary incapable of resolving its coverage issues, this seems like the makings of a trap game for the Patriots.
New England still obviously boasts one of the best quarterbacks in football in Tom Brady, and his success against the Colts defense will also play a big role in determining the outcome. But without some semblance of consistency out of the defense, and the secondary in particular, Luck and the Colts could very well walk out of Gillette with a stirring win to just further their already budding confidence.
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