INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck has a few new wrinkles for opponents this season.
He has three receivers with 1,000-yard seasons on their resumes. He has two pass-catching tight ends, two running backs with workhorse pedigrees and now he’s implementing a no-huddle offense, too.
It’s just the natural progression for one of the game’s best young quarterbacks, a move that could create all sorts of mismatches and help the Colts take the next step in their Super Bowl chase.
“I think it’s great when the time calls and the situation calls, it puts pressure on the defense,” Luck said. “Obviously it makes us tired, but hopefully it’s making them tired as well, or maybe more tired. I think the fast tempo, you can sustain a little momentum with it.”
Over the past two seasons, Luck has provided all the momentum the Colts needed.
Since his arrival, Indianapolis has completed one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in league history, been to the playoffs twice, won its first AFC South title without Peyton Manning and produced the second-largest playoff comeback in league history.
The glaring omission from that list is a Super Bowl title, something Luck & Co. hope to rectify in 2014.
“We know what the outside expectations are, but we have our own,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “We’re chasing that Lombardi (Trophy) and that’s our goal.”
The Colts have a myriad of reasons for optimism.
They have slowly surrounded Luck with more playmakers and a defense that seems to be getting comfortable and finding players who better fit Pagano’s 3-4 system. They have improved their special teams coverage units and their return game. Now they’re giving Luck a chance to install some of the offense and change tempos at will, as was the case with Luck’s predecessor, Manning.
And Luck can already see a difference.
“Absolutely the execution gets better,” he said. “I think you have the ability to do more with it the more you do it. I guess everything should get better the more you do it. But you can tell guys are more comfortable with it, absolutely.”
Will that be enough to leapfrog perennial AFC favorites Denver and New England? Perhaps.
“We won the division, we won a playoff game, and now it’s just a question of trying to get deeper,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said.
Here are some other things to watch with the Colts in 2014.
DE-FENSE: Things are changing in Indianapolis. After switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4 in 2012 and finding a handful of new starters last season, the Colts have added linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and defensive lineman Arthur Jones this year, and they have given this defense a more aggressive look. If this confident bunch can complement Luck’s already potent offense, Indy (11-5) just might have the right combination.
LINE DANCE: Indy’s offensive line is already off to a rough start. Starting left guard Donald Thomas will miss the entire season with a torn right quad. Starting center Khaled Holmes sprained his right ankle on the first series of the preseason opener and hasn’t returned yet. Second-round pick Jack Mewhort is contending with a sore right knee and seventh-round pick Ulrick John is expected to miss substantial time with a lower right leg injury. So the Colts have had to mix and match — much as they did last year. Health will be a major factor in whether the Colts can add the ground game they need to help Luck.
RICHIE RICH: Nobody faces more scrutiny this season than running back Trent Richardson. The Colts traded a first-round pick to Cleveland last year to get the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2012. But Richardson’s struggles were so glaring, fans wanted him benched. Eventually he was, and now that he’s had a full offseason to learn the system and work with his teammates, the Colts expect much more from Richardson in 2014.
COMEBACK CITY: Tight end Dwayne Allen missed 15 games with a hip injury last season. Perennial Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne missed nine with a torn ACL. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw missed 13 with a neck injury, and reigning sacks champ Robert Mathis will miss the first four games this year after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. If all four return to their normal levels, the Colts should be significantly improved.
SCHEDULING MATTERS: Some years, everything seems to fall in place and this could be one of them. Not only do the Colts play in the NFL’s only division that didn’t produce at least two .500 teams last season, they have four games against the NFC East and four more against the AFC North. That makes the Colts schedule the easiest in the NFL.