By Tom James CNHI News service
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — Bill Belichick doesn't have to be reminded about the talents of Indianapolis Colts second-year quarterback Andrew Luck.
Although Belichick's New England Patriots handed the Colts a 59-24 loss in Foxboro last year, he came away from the game with plenty of respect for the young signal caller.
Luck completed 27-of-50 passes for 334 yards, two touchdowns. He also had three interceptions, with two being returned for touchdowns.
The Patriots got a quick glimpse at how good the Indianapolis quarterback could be as he led his team on touchdown drives on the Colts' first two offensive possessions.
Not bad considering it was Luck's first-ever trip into noisy and often wind-swept Gillette Stadium.
Belichick has seen even more progress over the course of this year.
"I don’t think anything is that surprising. He had a great college career, first pick in the draft. I think everybody saw him as a very talented player coming into this league. He’s done all the things that I think he has the talent to do. He’s obviously a smart guy. He works hard, he’s tough, he has good leadership skills. He’s athletic, he can make plays with his feet and his arm: scramble plays, designed plays, plays that play out kind of the way they’re drawn up but he can improvise and make plays on his own," he said earlier this week.
"He does a good job of seeing down the field. He throws a very good deep ball, has good touch on some of the short and intermediate plays: screens, crossing routes, again some touch plays in the red zone, things like that. There’s no question he’s a complete football player and one of the top quarterbacks in this league already. He has a great career in front of him but I think he’s already established himself as a very poised and talented player that can do a lot of things to beat you and he manages his team well and plays good situational football."
After facing the likes of Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark in earlier meetings with the Colts, Belichick and the Patriots are now getting better acquainted with a whole new cast of characters when it comes to the Indianapolis offense.
First on the New England agenda is finding a way to stop second-year wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who set single-game career marks with his performance in last week's AFC wild-card win over Kansas City -- 13 catches for 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Hilton had six catches for 100 yards and two TDs in last year's game.
"He’s, as we saw, a go-to guy. He had a couple hundred yards [against the Chiefs], but he’s shown up all year. He’s a big key to it, but Luck has done a good job spreading the ball around. He’s made some key throws to a lot of guys. He obviously has a lot of confidence in [tight end Coby] Fleener. Their running game has been – [Donald] Brown and [Trent] Richardson have given them a good, solid year running the ball. They have 1,000 yards between them. There’s some balance there, whichever guy is in the game," Belichick said.
"Certainly T.Y. has been a big factor, but I think they’ve gotten production all the way around. I’d say all those have added into their high scoring as a team."
Patriots linebacker Rob Nikovich, who played at Purdue, has been impressed.
"I think Luck this year, I think he is playing with more confidence. Obviously last year being his first year and getting into the situations and things that he can kind of control better this year is having that experience and just being more confident. Again, that goes a long way as a quarterback. Once you’ve seen everything. He’s been in certain situations and obviously they’ve given him a little bit more control with the things that he does at the line of scrimmage in terms of checking things versus what he sees," Nikovich voiced.
"So, as a defensive lineman, linebacker, you have to obviously be aware of the things he is trying to check to. If he sees a certain thing, as a defensive end you have to be aware of his ability to, when something breaks down, pull the ball down and run for a first down. I wouldn’t say he’s a guy that is looking to run first and foremost. He wants to throw the ball down the field and make plays with his arm. When there is a breakdown where the d-line lets him see a 15-yard opening, he is going to step up and pull it down and run for a first down. So, as a d-line you have to be smart in your pass rush lanes, still get pressure on him and effect him in the pocket, but not give him those scramble ability lanes just to get a first down."
Safety Devin McCourty agrees.
"I think it’s key we stay in coverage. Every time we play a quarterback that’s mobile, especially a quarterback like him that’s mobile that has a big arm, it’s key to myself and other guys in the deep part of the field [to] stay deep because the receivers when he starts scrambling, they either go deep or they come back to him. We don’t want everyone up there worried about the short routes or worried about them running and one of their guys gets behind us and that’s just an easy play," McCourty said.
"He can just chuck the ball deep and that’s a touchdown. That will be key. Our d-line really understands about trying to keep him in the pocket but it’s hard. When you’ve got a guy that’s good like that, he might escape the pocket a couple times and when he does we’re going to have get our receivers [and] match their routes and plaster to them, just stay on them and let whoever is free go get him and try to get him on the ground. "
McCourty admits that Indianapolis' ability to rally when the chips are down has gotten his attention.
"I think their will, their will to win the game. I feel like when we’re engaged, I feel like we have that edge that when we get in the game that there’s never going to be a point in the game that we feel like we’re just down or out of it. We always talk about defensively if our offense is on the field last or if we’re on the field last, we feel like we’re going to get the win," he said.
"I think that’s what’s going to make this game tough because I truly believe they feel the same way. I think it’s going to be a great game for four quarters. You’re going to see two teams give it everything they have."