The new era is underway in Indianapolis with Andrew Luck under center. The No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, Luck and the Colts have a rather difficult schedule ahead of them this season.
To that end, let's break down how Luck and Co. turn out in the first post-Peyton Manning year.
This will be the most difficult part of the schedule for Indy's offense because the Texans and Jaguars field two potential Top 5 defenses. Here, Andrew Luck must spread the ball around effectively to move the ball, as Houston and Jacksonville will get pressure and lock down in man coverage.
Both defenses will blitz Luck, as Indianapolis is prone to being one-dimensional, so the Colts must also remain true to the running game. Luck's ability to read pre-snap, call audibles and sell the run for play-action will keep Houston and Jacksonville honest and keep the pocket safe.
Tennessee won't be nearly as tough because the Titans remain weak against the run and are vulnerable against the pass. Therefore, expect a lot of running and deep balls to keep Tennessee on its heels.
The Colts will play tough in the AFC South, and Luck will perform well against some of the league's better defenses.
Luck's average stats per game: 18-of-32 for 220 passing yards, one TD, two picks
For the Colts' other AFC opponents outside of the division, they get the entire AFC East and the Browns and Chiefs.
All present solid defenses against which Luck may struggle to move the ball, so production will be difficult. Buffalo and Kansas City present the best pass rushes, and the Patriots will be the most difficult to keep pace with. Here, Luck must be firing on all cylinders in the passing game and make the right pre-snap reads.
The Chiefs' and Bills' offenses aren't as explosive as the Pats, but both can put up points when healthy. New England, counterintuitively, has a solid pass rush, and Luck will need to use his mobility to make plays.
As for the rest of their AFC opponents; Indianapolis can consistently move the rock well against Cleveland, Miami and New York. All three can apply decent pressure, but are more vulnerable against the run that sets up the pass.
Luck's success here will be predicated on his pocket awareness. Against weaker pass-rushing units, the Colts can let Luck sling the rock and see what he really brings to pro football.
Indy must continue to work the ball on the ground, but the receivers will have more time to develop routes. So, utilizing play-action and setting up Luck to throw on bootlegs can lead to some awesome production.
Luck's average stats per game: 23-of-37 for 275 passing yards, two TDs, one pick
When the Colts face the NFC North, we'll see Andrew Luck put up impressive numbers. The entire division still is vulnerable against the pass and needs to prove it can get consistent quarterback pressure.
Although the Colts will need to execute their offense to a "T," they must also slow the game down. The NFC North presents explosive offenses that will put up points, so expect Indy to run the ball more.
Luck will simply be asked to make quick reads, go deep on occasion and utilize play-action from the shotgun. Minnesota is the easiest game, but by no means a cakewalk. All of these defenses will load the box to blitz, which is why the quick-hit-passing attack must be effective.
We won't see a lot of yards from Luck because Indy's methodically effective approach will be used to keep the defenses honest. Also, anticipate some quick screens and designed check-downs to the running backs for expected yards after the catch.
Luck's average stats per game: 21-of-28, 250 passing yards, two TDs, one pick
Overall Record: 7-9
Luck's total numbers: 3,970 passing yards, 26 TDs, 22 INTs
Certainly not impressive by comparison to his college days, but Andrew Luck will display why he's the future of the franchise.
The Colts won't end up with a winning record, but a five-game turnaround from 2011 will lead to increased expectations for 2013. The defense will cost the Colts a few games, but provided that Indianapolis remains consistent on offense, the defense will come around.
John Rozum on Twitter.
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