Another week, another team to prepare for and we'll start by looking at the Colts best player – quarterback Andrew Luck.
The thing that makes Luck so difficult to deal with is his combination of mobility, intelligence and throwing ability. He makes the Colts offense go and keeping him under wraps is no small task. He has a variety of capable receivers to work with, including wideouts T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Donte Moncrief and Hakeem Nicks as well as tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
But while Luck is capable of throwing for big yards – he tied for the league lead with 4,761 yards passing – where he truly stands out is in his ability to buy time by getting out of the pocket. He's equally dangerous as a runner and passer in these situations and that's why it's so important for the Patriots to contain him within the pocket.
In the first meeting the New England front was able to do a great job of not allowing him to escape. Luck scrambled three times for 15 yards that night, and he wasn't able to much damage on the rare occasions when he got himself out of trouble along the perimeter.
While he was sacked just once during the game, Luck also didn't break down the defense outside of the pocket the way he has countless times during his brief three-year career. Never was this more apparent than during Indy's wild card win over Cincinnati when he was flushed to the right by a Bengals blitz, stepped up toward the line of scrimmage and fired a perfect bomb to Moncrief for a touchdown. It was vintage Luck.
In order for the Patriots to make sure that doesn't happen on Sunday they're going to need to be aware of the pass-rush discipline. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones need to be under control rushing on the edges so Luck isn't able to step inside their wide routes and escape toward the perimeter. Ninkovich is particularly adept at this tactic and generally does a nice job of staying under control.
The pass rushers will also need some help from the linebackers. Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower possess the type of athleticism that can help neutralize mobile quarterbacks. One or both might be asked to spy Luck on occasion to prevent him from stepping around trouble in order to buy time. Collins in particular should be able to prevent any "cheap" rushing yards that might allow the Colts to move the chains on plays when the coverage is otherwise sound.
But the idea of staying under control and keeping Luck under wraps is easier said than done. He appears to be more poised and effective than he was even two months ago when the Patriots last saw him. He posted the first road playoff victory of his career and now will get the opportunity to take his team to the Super Bowl.
So, expecting Luck to collapse under the pressure is probably not a wise course of action. Instead the Patriots defense will need to be much better than it was against Baltimore, because this time it's facing a much more dangerous attack.