For many of the young Minnesota Vikings defensive players, Sunday will be the first time they will face Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts. Because of the way the schedules are aligned, teams from opposite conferences play each other just once every four years, so for many of the Vikings, Sunday will be their first opportunity to go up against one of the more dynamic quarterbacks in the NFL.
Luck has enjoyed his share of success because he does a lot of things well, whether it’s calling an audible at the line, taking deep shots downfield, throwing the safe pass when coverage is good or mixing in the run to keep defenses honest.
“He’s very smart,” defensive tackle Shamar Stephen said. “He knows all his checks. He’s knows how to read defenses quickly and find the open receiver. He’s got a great running back (Frank Gore) behind him, so he can mix things up.”
The frustrating part about Luck is his willingness to stand tall in the pocket when it is collapsing around him and holding the ball a little longer than most quarterbacks.
There isn’t a panic button in his head that is often seen in quarterbacks when pressure is bearing down on him. Instead, Luck has perfected sliding his feet and moving in small areas to keep plays alive and potentially have a coverage breakdown that can lead to a big play.
“He buys himself time in the pocket,” Stephen said. “He isn’t a scrambler like some quarterbacks, but when he does scramble, he can make some nice gains. He’s a great athlete who can throw the ball as well as any quarterback in the league.”
Luck’s ability to keep a play alive for a second or two longer is going to put pressure on the back end of the Vikings defense, which could be without Harrison Smith for a second straight week.
It will put more pressure on the corners and safeties when there isn’t that certainty as to whether a play is still going or not. Safety Andrew Sendejo believes that quarterbacks like Luck force defenders to stick to their keys and their fundamentals – not stopping until they hear a whistle.
“You get the looks that you see on film as to what he does best,” Sendejo said. “He’s very good with his feet. He rolls away from pressure and is an accurate thrower. Any time you play a quarterback that can extend a play, you have to be ready to keep in your coverage a little longer, because he’s willing to stand in there and take a hit to deliver a pass downfield.”
That willingness to take a hit has taken a toll on Luck this season. He didn’t practice Wednesday because of shoulder and elbow soreness, although in a conference call with the local media he proclaimed himself good to go for Sunday. He was limited all last week in Indy’s showdown with Houston and had one of his worst games of the season – completing just over 50 percent of his passes and throwing two interceptions.
Luck has taken 96 quarterback hits this season, the most of any quarterback in the league. His 471 QB hits since 2012 is also the most in the NFL. His offensive line is partly to blame, but so is Luck himself. His willingness to wait for a receiver to uncover has led to leaving himself open to big hits. While that has the defensive line licking its chops, it has players in the secondary wary of passes coming out when it looks like it should be over.
“The key for us is everybody doing their job,” Sendejo said. “(Smith) is an important player for us, but we all have responsibilities and I don’t think that changes. We have to be ready to have all 11 guys do their responsibility on a given play and, if we all do our job right, it will work for us. As long as we don’t try to do too much – try to do somebody else’s job instead of just doing your own – we’ll be fine.”
The strength of the Colts in recent years has been its ability to move the ball down the field offensively. The strength of the Vikings has been to swarm on defense and make life miserable for quarterbacks. Perhaps Alex Boone summed it up best in this strength vs. strength matchup, where he sees Luck as both the hunter and the hunted.
“I don’t think our defense has to get too worried about Luck, I think he has to be worried about us,” Boone said. “Our defense does a great job of keeping a quarterback in the pocket and if he does get out, we have linebackers ready to deliver a hit on him. He can make plays with his feet, but against this defense, that comes with a price.”null