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COLUMN

Irsay's concerns are Colts fans' concerns (with video)

More Information

Miami at Colts

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium
TV: CBS (WANE, Ch.15)
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM

For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

Keeping Luck upright is a key to winning, and everyone knows it

Saturday, September 14, 2013 - 6:03 am

INDIANAPOLIS – Jim Irsay didn't tweet anything novel this week. The protecting of Andrew Luck, as it was with the Indianapolis Colts' previous quarterback, always reigns supreme.

Irsay, the Colts owner, caused a manufactured media outrage because he had the audacity or whim to emphasize his uppercase “DEMAND” for Luck's security.

Irsay is right. It's a legitimate, necessary demand.

The Colts have to protect Luck against the rush of the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, and every other team in ensuing Sundays.

You'd have to be a nitwit to think the tweet was a new thought.

“The unique thing about (Luck) is he can run,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “He's not skittish in the pocket by any means, but he can extend the play. He can sense where that free rusher is coming from and perhaps step up outside and make some yards on his own, which makes him doubly difficult to defend.”

Luck's legs, and his strength shown in shedding an all-but-finished sack by the Raiders last week, present a challenge for the Dolphins. But the Dolphins will bring some heat. They had six sacks in their season-opening win over the Cleveland Browns, and they have a sack-master in fifth-year defensive end Cameron Wake.

Wake has 2.5 sacks last week and – interesting note from the Browns –30.5 sacks in road games since 2009. He obviously likes to silence the home crowd while smashing the home crowd's quarterback.

Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is not Luck in passing skills or sack-elusiveness, but the Dolphins were impressive nonetheless.

While the Colts allowed four sacks last week, Colts coach Chuck Pagano offered that at least one, and probably two, were on Luck for trying to extend a play. On the other hand, he erased a sack on his great escape play, too.

“As long as 12 (Luck) is upright and on his feet, we've got a much better chance of winning than losing,” Pagano said. “We're fully aware of that and we will do everything, exhaust everything, to make sure we take care of him and keep him clean.”

Keeping Wake at bay will be one major factor, Pagano said.

Wake, like many great pass rushers, relies on skill rather than the element of surprise or deception. Quarterbacks and offensive linemen know he's coming. Slowing or stopping him is the issue.

“Pretty much 99.9 percent of the time, he'll be lined up to our offense's right, defense's left,” Pagano said. “That's one thing to know where he is. It's a different thing getting him blocked. The guy is very , very athletic, very powerful. He's got a nice toolbox full of rushes.”

The Colts will also need protection from running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown. Starting back Vick Ballard suffered a torn ACL on Thursday and is out for the season.

Luck appears to be improving on knowing when to try to scramble, when to extend a play and when to chuck the ball out of bounds and remain unscathed for the next down. He's still too hesitant to toss one safely into the sidelines. Knowing when to let a play die was a trait, among many, that distinguished former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning over the years.

“There were some plays last week (Luck) could have managed better,” Pagano said. “Again, he'd be the first to tell you, there are four sacks on the stat sheet, but he's such a competitive guy that he gets out of the one where they've got him dead to rights and he scrambles for a first down. So his mindset is, 'I can do that every time.' “

It would have been accurate, but maybe impossible to fit in 140 characters, for Irsay to include Luck as someone who has to help protect Luck, along with the linemen, running backs and coaches Irsay pointed out.

The Colts' offensive line can improve, as can all phases, but the pass protection in Game 1 was more positive than negative.

Establishing the threat of the run, regardless of whether the Colts run, can help keep some pressure off Luck.

Interestingly enough, run defense is another Wake strength, Philbin said.

“One of the things that people don't understand about him, and I think the film would bear this out, is he plays against the run very well,” Philbin said. “He's not a guy that we just throw in the game on third down. He's a guy that gets in there, battles offensive tackles and tight ends and double teams and kick-out blocks and cut blocks. He's a football player, through and through.”

The Colts believe the run game can set up the pass, and that the legs of Bradshaw and Brown can lead to Luck having more time to pass and remaining upright.

“(Miami) played really, really well in Week 1,” Luck said. “We know we have our work cut out for us, I think (they had) six sacks last weekend, three interceptions. They're playing good football. Cameron Wake can be a game-wrecker, and you don't want that to happen.”

The Dolphins appear improved. They have some weapons, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill and wide receiver Mike Wallace, who insisted after pouting over not enough catches last week that he wasn't pouting at all. The good news is Tannehill isn't the run-first and run-often wild card that Oakland's Terrelle Pryor is.

Miami's offense aside, the Colts will continue to go as far as Luck takes them.

Winning demands – or should we say DEMANDS – he remain upright and throwing.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.