Andrew Luck was the future face of the NFL when the 25-year-old former No. 1 overall pick and his Colts went into Foxboro to play the old guy, Tom Brady, and his Patriots in the AFC title game two seasons ago.
Luck might still fulfill that role, but since that game, things have gotten a little bumpy and bruised for the scruffy future face of the league. He’s 8-12 since then, starting with the 45-7 loss to New England, which saw Luck complete 36.4 percent of his 33 throws for 126 yards, two interceptions and a 23.3 passer rating.
After that, Luck missed 10 games in two seasons, including one this year when a concussion handed the Steelers basically an uncontested 28-7 win three weeks ago.
Luck didn’t practice Wednesday because of right shoulder and elbow injuries, but is expected to face the Vikings on Sunday. He struggled with a 53.3 completion percentage, three turnovers and a 68.4 passer rating in Sunday’s 22-17 loss to the Texans.
Indy’s problems this year certainly don’t start with Luck. But if Luck is going to be the future face of the league, he needs to carry all the flaws around him — like the 29th-ranked defense — the way Peyton Manning used to when he was winning multiple league MVPs.
Overview: The Colts aren’t mathematically kaput, but, well, they’re basically kaput at 6-7 and 10th in the AFC seeding chart. They’re 3-3 on the road. They lost at Jacksonville, for gosh sakes. But they won at Lambeau, for gosh sakes. They also lost twice to a Houston team the Vikings dismantled 31-13. Of course, a lot has happened since the Vikings beat Houston to go to 5-0.
To the tape: …
Top thoughts while watching tape of the Colts’ 22-17 loss to Houston at home on Sunday:
—The game had to be humiliating for Indy’s defense. In a tight contest, Houston ran the ball 41 times and threw it 24. It was nothing fancy. Just a between-the-tackles, man-on-man beating. Houston had 185 yards rushing. Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue simply wore down the Colts’ front with 37 carries for 162 yards. Unfortunately for the Vikings, they haven’t shown this ability, and Adrian Peterson is probably a week away from returning.
—Frank Gore can’t possibly be a 33-year-old running back with 12 years on his legs, can he? He showed speed, quickness and power on Indy’s first snap, running for 11 yards behind a great lead block by tight end Jack Doyle, who often lines up at fullback. Gore’s final numbers — 41 yards on 10 carries and two catches for 33 yards — aren’t indicative of what this guy has left in the tank. The Colts just didn’t use him enough. Gore turned a third-quarter screen into an 18-yard touchdown burst that saw the 5-9, 207-pounder pinballing off defenders inside the 10. Gore vs. MLB Eric Kendricks will be a fun matchup to watch Sunday.
—The game was lost late in the third quarter with the Colts trailing 16-10 and facing third-and-goal from the 3. For some inexplicable reason, left tackle Anthony Castonzo, the 2011 first-round draft pick, turned inside and blocked no one. That left tight end Dwayne Allen all alone to block Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney clobbered Luck, stripping the ball for a Houston takeaway. The Texans turned that into a field goal and a two-score game.
—Luck probably held the ball too long on the play. But watching this game, it’s understandable why he tends to hold the ball longer. At least in this game, he consistently got an inordinate amount of time in the pocket. He was sacked just the one time, and when he was pressured, it was usually because of tight coverage.
—Luck turned the ball over three times, leading to nine points for Houston. He had two interceptions. The first one on the first play of the Colts’ second possession of the game. With a clean pocket and time to throw, Luck floated a lollipop over Allen’s head to the belly of an open defensive back. Perhaps Allen didn’t run the right route, but Luck had a clear look and time to go to his next option if that were the case. The second one came on third-and-2 when he had even more time throw. Finally, Clowney hit him from behind as he threw, contributing to the pick.
—Cornerback Vontae Davis is their best defensive back, but he and the safety allowed DeAndre Hopkins to sprint behind the defense on the second play of the game. Brock Osweiller overthrew him.
—The Vikings aren’t the only team dealing with concussions on the offensive line. The Colts obviously missed Denzelle Good, their starting right tackle, who was out with a concussion last week. That moved rookie Joe Haeg from right tackle to right guard and put formerly-benched Joe Reitz back in at right tackle. He’s a liability, as Whitney Mercilus exposed on Indy’s third snap. He beat Reitz around the corner and batted Luck’s pass down inches after it left his hand. Good was limited in practice Wednesday, a sign he’ll return this week.
—Week after week, the Vikings face big, mobile quarterbacks. Luck might be the thickest, fastest and most dangerous one of the bunch. The 6-5, 236-pounder showed that on the first third down of Sunday’s game. The guy with the great arm ran a read-option look. He showed handoff to Gore. When Mercilus, playing to Luck’s right side, bit on the inside handoff, Luck pulled the ball out and used his speed to get around the right edge. Two receivers threw great blocks to give Luck the sideline. And he took off for 33 yards, a career high.
—Two plays after that, the rifle arm was on display. With T.Y. Hilton covered on a crossing route, Luck fired the ball through a tiny window for a 17-yard gain. No defense can stop that throw without grabbing the receiver. And, making it an even greater throw was the fact Luck took a helmet to the chin from a blitzing linebacker as he unleashed it.
—Speaking of Hilton, Xavier Rhodes is going to need to play an aggressive, but clean game to neutralize this guy. With 1,203 yards receiving already, Hilton has had four straight 1,000-yard seasons. The only other receiver in the league that can say that right now is Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown.
—Did Adam Vinatieri keep his first NFL helmet? And was it made of leather? The 43-year-old kicker just doesn’t seem human. He did miss a 55-yarder, but he’s 23 for 26 on the season. Also, while the rest of the league’s kickers are freaking out over the longer PATs, Vinatieri is 35 for 35 this season.
—Outside linebacker Erik Walden, the former Packer, is an active, athletic, aggressive defender that RT Jeremiah Sirles is probably going to need help with on Sunday. The Colts stopped Houston one third-and-goal at the 3 early in Sunday’s game because Walden blew up a pass attempt by running past the right tackle, who grabbed Walden’s face mask to try and slow him down. The Colts declined the penalty because Walden forced Osweiller to throw the ball away.
—The final impression after watching this game was the Colts aren’t physical enough to beat the Vikings on the road. However, if the Vikings don’t contain Gore first, the door opens for Luck, who has thrown for 300 yards or more four times this season.
Luck’s rushing total on just 56 carries (5.4). He’s second on the team behind Gore. The Colts don’t want him running too much because of his injuries the past two years. But Luck’s legs are a weapon. In fact, his rushing total is only 84 yards fewer than Jerick McKinnon’s team-high total with the Vikings.