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This year has been notable for many things in the NFL, one being the high number of rookie quarterbacks starting. This may have had something to do with the success of 2011 rookies Andy Dalton and Cam Newton, as each started every game last year. This year there have been five first-year quarterbacks who have started every game for their team.
None have had more responsibility than Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. There has been much more talk of the success of fellow rookie QB Robert Griffin III, who has certainly put up more impressive stats than Luck, but has also been playing in a more QB-friendly system. From the moment Luck took the field with the Colts, he has had to play in an offense that focused on throwing the ball frequently and throwing it downfield. Luck is averaging 40.2 passes per game, and leads the NFL in yards gained through the air (before the run after catch) with 1,751.
Though his stat line of 10 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, with a completion percentage of 57.5%, and 79.1 QB rating is pretty average, he has led an average Colts to a 6-3 record after a 2-14 2011 campaign. Part of this has to do with Luck’s poise in the 4th quarter, as he has led his team to four game-winning 4th quarter drives and two 4th quarter comebacks.
Luck’s clear favorite receiver is Reggie Wayne, and for good reason. Wayne has proven he is anything but washed up by leading the NFL in receiving with 931 yards, just 29 yards less than his entire 2011 total. Luck will rarely throw to his running backs or behind the line of scrimmage, rather utilizing his other receivers, Donnie Avery and TJ Hilton, and his two rookie tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. He will certainly take his shots downfield, as he is tied with Joe Flacco for the NFL lead in most deep passes (20+ yards).
What the Patriots need to know about Luck is that more likely than not, he is going to be throwing the ball a lot. He is also a quarterback who can handle the pressure of having to throw it 45+ times a game and still win, which he did against the Packers and the Dolphins. He also has the athleticism to move around in the pocket, and tuck it and run when he sees an opening. Colts running backs Donald Brown and Vick Ballard have not been especially impressive so far (Luck has more rushing touchdowns than either) and unless one of them starts out especially hot, the Colts will likely look to Luck to carry them once again.
What it comes down to is the Patriots need to get out to a big lead and keep the pressure on Luck throughout the game. Luck has been much more effective at home than he has on the road, so if the Patriot offense can get an early lead and get the crowd involved early, they should be fine. But they let the Colts stick around late in the game, they could be looking at a second loss to a rookie QB (the other was against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks).