Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Patriots’ Defense Must Find Balance Between Pressuring, Containing Andrew Luck

Colts Lucky Strike FootballFOXBORO, Mass. — In theory, there is no way for the New England Patriots to stop Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

If the Patriots choose to pressure Luck, there’s a good chance the former No. 1 overall pick will find a rushing lane and burn New England with his legs. If the Patriots designate a pass rusher to contain Luck and keep the signal-caller in the pocket, there’s a fear he’ll get too much time to throw and will find an open receiver.

So how exactly do the Patriots weigh those options with a quarterback who seems like he was unfairly created on Madden by an overzealous 8-year-old whose lone goal in the game is to beat the opposition 200-10? (Luck’s actual Madden rating is a way-too-modest 88. His speed could be bumped up from its current 82, and his “medium throw accuracy” rating of 84 is downright laughable.)

“With any quarterback that can run, you don’t want them to get outside the pocket, because that’s where they’re most dangerous,” Patriots rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones said Thursday. “So we definitely want to contain him to the pocket as much as we can.”

But isn’t it dangerous to give him too much time to throw the ball?

“Yeah, he can throw,” Jones said. “He can throw and he can run, so he is a quadruple threat if there is one.”

That’s right. Luck is more than just a triple threat. He has four threats, which seems fair given his brain and toughness.

Perhaps it takes a 13-year pro to explain how exactly the Patriots plan on better defending Luck. Veteran defensive end Andre Carter has seen the rise of the mobile quarterback during his long NFL career.

“We call it pass rush coordination,” Carter said Thursday. “A lot of defenses throughout the season, when it comes to a mobile quarterback — not just Andrew Luck, guys like Cam Newton, [Michael] Vick in the past — it’s just a matter of communication. When you need to be there, you need to be there. … You just have to play football and take your shot if need be. And make the adjustments on the sideline.”

Carter said it’s not so much trying to find a balance between containing and rushing but accomplishing both at once.

“I think it’s more just based on communication,” Carter said. “A lot is predicated on the defensive call — who has contain and who doesn’t. It’s no different between playing all mobile quarterbacks. He’s just a special breed because he can throw on the run, he can scramble and make plays with his legs and make plays with his arm. It’s very vital that we constantly communicate. When he does scramble, definitely try to get to him and play football.”

The Patriots just have to play football — Carter makes it sound so easy. But it seems very complicated. Luck doesn’t run often, as defensive end Rob Ninkovich pointed out, but he does average 8.1 yards per carry on attempts that he’s not kneeling the ball. He had 48 designed runs and scrambles on the season.

“I wouldn’t say he’s a guy that is looking to run first and foremost,” Ninkovich said. “He wants to throw the ball down the field and make plays with his arm. When there is a breakdown where the D-line lets him see a 15-yard opening, he is going to step up and pull it down and run for a first down. So, as a D-line you have to be smart in your pass rush lanes, still get pressure on him and affect him in the pocket, but not give him those scramble ability lanes just to get a first down.”

Fortunately for the Patriots, the Colts have not finished building an offense around Luck. Indianapolis’ guards and center allow too much pressure, and only wide receiver T.Y. Hilton can be considered a top-flight threat. Luck can be as good as he wants, but he needs open teammates to target.

Luck also isn’t fully formed yet (when he is, watch out). He will still make a boneheaded throw now and then, and there are times when he can’t feel the pressure around him. Luck will still occasionally take a sack rather than throwing the ball away, and his passes can sail on him.

Fortunately for the Colts, Luck doesn’t seem to dwell on his mistakes for too long, to which the Kansas City Chiefs can fully attest. Give Luck too many chances, and he will eventually deliver.

If there’s one thing WEEI’s Mike Salk and Michael Holley found out this season, it’s that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will never prepare for an opposing team’s worst football. So it seems out of the realm of possibility that New England will just sit back and hope that Luck makes some boneheaded mistakes.

Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia both talked about Luck’s ability to extend plays this week, if further positive traits need to be added to the quarterback’s list of talents. Luck’s not only getting out of the pocket to take off downfield — he’s also able to buy time to get his receivers open.

“He’s a strong player. He’s fast as well,” defensive end Chandler Jones acknowledged. “But as far as him being able to extend plays on the ground and throw the ball down the field, he’s very dangerous. He’s a dangerous player, and that’s our job as defensive linemen and pass-rushers, is to contain him.”

Containing Luck’s arm and legs is no doubt New England’s No. 1 goal this Saturday. Forcing mistakes, rather than waiting on them, will be key, but if Luck is on his A-game, it will be on the other team’s quarterback (his name is Tom Brady, if you haven’t heard of him) to match Luck. And if any quarterback can go score-for-score with Luck, it’s Brady.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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