Andrew Luck was billed as the most NFL-ready quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning — some even said John Elway.
It seems fitting, then, that the 23-year-old rookie was drafted first overall by the Indianapolis Colts, the franchise that drafted both Manning and Elway (the latter forced a trade from the franchise when it was in Baltimore) with the top pick.
While the expectations of Luck have been enormous, he has shown promise in his first two starts as the Colts’ quarterback. He’ll look to build on that promise at 1 p.m. today as the Colts (1-1) play host to their division rivals, the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) at Lucas Oil Stadium.
One area in which Luck has excelled — even in his less-than-stellar debut against the Chicago Bears — is in the hurry-up offense late in halves.
Down 24-14 with 44 seconds remaining in the first half at Chicago in Week 1, Luck completed four straight passes for 59 yards — 51 of them amassed by rookie tight end Coby Fleener — to set up Adam Vinatieri for a 37-yard field goal. Vinatieri missed, but it still was encouraging to see Luck will the offense all the way from its own 22-yard line to field-goal position at the end of a half, especially when considering the suffocating pressure he had faced from the Bears’ defense to that point, getting no help from his porous offensive line.
Luck did it twice more the following week in his first career win as a pro.
The rookie led Indy on an eight-play drive from its own 36 at the end of the first half, throwing for 54 yards, running for more and capping it all off with a 30-yard touchdown strike down the middle to Reggie Wayne in less than a minute.
At the end of that game, after conservative play-calling from the Colts’ coaching staff allowed the Minnesota Vikings to tie the game with two late touchdowns (the second coming with 31 seconds remaining in the game), Luck saw fit to put an end to conservative play and win it right then and there. He threw two straight 20-yard darts to Wayne and Donnie Avery, respectively, and set up Vinatieri for a game-winning 53-yard field goal. This time, Vinatieri came through, sealing a 23-20 victory on the first fourth-quarter game-winning drive of Luck’s career.
Through two games, Luck is 43-of-76 for 533 yards, three touchdown passes and three interceptions. All three picks came at the hands of Chicago’s suffocating defensive effort during Week 1. While those throws weren’t good, Luck largely has shown promise with his command of the huddle and his ability to create scores in the clutch.
He might not have to resort to the crunch-time prowess this week.
The Jaguars don’t present as much of a pass-rushing threat as either of Indy’s first two opponents; the only effective rusher they have is Jeremy Mincey, but he doesn’t strike the fear of God in offensive linemen a la Julius Peppers (Chicago) or Jared Allen (Minnesota). While the Colts’ offensive line has been atrocious thus far, left tackle Anthony Castonzo likely can hold his own against Mincey.
That could mean more time for Luck to throw in the pocket as opposed to being flushed out of it to pass, which he has been forced to do seemingly on a majority of snaps this season. He could have a nice day against Jacksonville’s secondary. Cornerback Derek Cox is talented but inconsistent. Rashean Mathis has had a fine career but is on the wrong side of 30. Given Wayne’s and Avery’s recent success and Austin Collie’s possible return, the Colts figure to have an edge out wide and could have another opening down the middle for tight ends Fleener and Dwayne Allen — and perhaps in the running game — as the Jaguars will be missing linebacker Daryl Smith.
The Colts’ defense could give Luck some help, too. Maurice Jones-Drew has given the Colts fits for as long as he has been in the league, but he’s coming off a holdout and is running behind a suspect offensive line. Cory Redding has been a difference maker for Indy’s oft-maligned run defense. If the Colts are able to limit the run, they likely will be able to feast on quarterback Blaine Gabbert even without Dwight Freeney.
Luck’s poise in pressure situations bodes well going forward, but he might not need it today.
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