Three Key Questions for the AFC Championship Game: New England Patriots vs Indianapolis Colts

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TWO: Why is Andrew Luck the Most Dangerous Rushing Threat for the Colts?

Aug 24, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) rushes out of the pocket during a game against the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The two word answer is “Dont’a Hightower”. The Patriots have been very disciplined in their pass rush against mobile quarterbacks in 2014 to the point of eschewing pressure at times to prevent a big quarterback scramble. Against Indianapolis, Green Bay, and the Jets it was evident that the Patriots defensive line and linebackers were focused on keeping the quarterback contained in the pocket.


The Patriots had success against Indianapolis in week eleven with Dont’a Hightower serving as a “spy” on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and overloading a side with the pass rush to force Luck to roll to Hightower’s side to contain him. Remember, the Patriots were without outside linebacker and top rusher Chandler Jones and leaned on Akeem Ayers for generating pressure against the Colts’ former Boston College tackles Anthony Castonzo (who caught a touchdown pass that game) and Gosder Cherilus. With Cherilus on injured reserve, the Colts have had to turn to veteran back-up Joe Reitz


In week eleven, Luck was the leading rusher for the Colts. Of course, they gained 19 yards on the ground, with Luck accounting for 15 of them on 3 rushes. Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson combined to rush 13 times for 4 yards in the game. Bradshaw is on injured reserve now and Richardson–who cost the Colts a first round draft pick to obtain–was a healthy scratch last week versus Denver.


Jan 11, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Dan Herron (36) before the game against the Denver Broncos in the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

In their place the Colts have found Dan Herron and Zurlon Tipton. Herron has 119 yards rushing in the playoffs, but needed 35 carries to get them. Herron is a good receiver out of the backfield but is not going to carry the Colts offense. The Colts need Luck to get those free yards and pick up some key first downs and extend drives. Luck has 273 yards rushing this year, and has shown the ability to know when to tuck and run and when to move to find a receiver.


The Colt running game is more than likely only going to hurt the Patriots when the gap discipline fails and Luck has open space ahead of him to run. Running quarterbacks are a problem for New England and they want Luck contained and forced into making a bad decision.  A controlled pass rush mixed with a well-timed blitz is going to help New England more than firing off the line to sack Luck and letting him run for a big gain.