Andrew Luck looked like himself in Week 1 against the Bengals, but the Colts need him to play like himself to defeat the Redskins in Week 2.
The most important thing the Colts accomplished in Week 1 was keeping Andrew Luck healthy for an entire football game. They accomplished that mission, but lost the game to the Bengals. If Indianapolis wants to even their record in Week 2, they’re going to need Luck to push the ball further down the field.
For the record, Colts fans have every right to be encouraged by how Luck played in the opener. It was a significant step forward from his preseason displays. His arm strength didn’t stand out quite like it did before his protracted injury absence, but there were definite signs of life. It’s not difficult to envision Luck getting back to a Pro Bowl level at some point this season.
The obvious question is when that might occur. It’s anyone’s guess. The Colts should be more concerned with Luck continuing to progress than anything else. Trying to rush him back to his absolute best would only increase his chance of suffering another injury. That’s the true nightmare scenario for the franchise.
The more pressing question for the game against Washington is whether or not Luck’s supporting cast is good enough. Again, things weren’t perfect against the Bengals, but there are reasons for optimism. Seven different Colts receivers had at least three catches in the opener. The Redskins defense is going to find it difficult to key in on any one receiver to stop.
Jay Gruden’s defense can learn one instructive lesson from how Luck operated last week though. Despite all of the positive aspects of his performance, he still didn’t throw the ball down the field with any effectiveness. He threw the ball 53 times in the opener but only averaged six yards per completion. Against Cincinnati, that was a full 2.7 yards per completion behind what Andy Dalton gave the Bengals.
Frank Reich and the Colts’ coaching staff must understand that the Redskins are going to craft their defense to take the short and intermediate throws away from Luck this Sunday. The right plan for the Washington defense is for their defensive backs to play up and challenge the Colts’ receivers to beat them over the top. That means Luck will have ample opportunities to make big plays down the field.
That doesn’t mean the Redskins will allow Luck to lob long passes down the field against single coverage. Instead, Washington will work hard to make Luck complete intermediate throws with real pace on them. Look for the Redskins defense to work hard to take the middle of the field away. As such, Luck will have to find a way to make deep connections outside the hash marks. Those are tough throws for average NFL quarterbacks, but at his best, Luck can make them with ease.
The reality for Indianapolis is that they will need to score a lot of points to stay in this game. Alex Smith isn’t the flashiest quarterback in the NFL, but he’s going to put up points in this system. It would be a big surprise if Washington doesn’t flirt with 30 points in this game.
That means Luck has to be a gunslinger to win. It might be too early for him to take on that much responsibility. Back the Redskins to take advantage of Luck’s current physical limitations. The Colts simply don’t have enough talent surrounding their quarterback to win this one.