Colts-Patriots Pick: All Eyes on Luck’s Arm

Indy’s offense has been mostly dink-and-dunk since the franchise QB’s return. Sign of a decline in arm strength, or just sensible strategy given the Colts’ shaky protection? Andy Benoit with that and two other keys to Thursday night’s Colts-Pats matchup in Foxborough
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Three things to know before the Colts face the Patriots on Thursday Night Football (8:20 p.m. ET, FOX, NFL Network, Amazone Prime).

1. There’s now an unofficial watch on Andrew Luck’s possibly declining arm strength. Film shows some evidence of decline, but the sample size this season is still too small for final declarations. Indy’s offense under Frank Reich frequently has Luck dinking and dunking. Some might argue that this is evidence of declining arm strength; coaches don’t ask players, especially quarterbacks, to do things they can’t do. But a shorter passing game is what any smart coach would ask of Luck, given that in his post-shoulder-injury life he must better protect himself from big hits late in the down. And big hits are exactly what you’re inviting when you drop back deep behind tackles Le’Raven Clark and Denzelle Good. An apt comparison for Luck right now might be Philip Rivers. Luck certainly doesn’t have Rivers’ awkward throwing motion, but their balls take similar flight. Rivers has good, not great, arm strength, but he magnifies it with smart anticipation throws and precision accuracy.

2. The Patriots should stifle Indy’s receivers with top target T.Y. Hilton out injured. Corner Stephon Gilmore has been stellar, if not spectacular, against downfield routes this season. New England’s pass rush is iffy at best, but against Miami last Sunday, aggressive man coverage headlined by Gilmore gave that rush extra time to get home.

3. Even with Julien Edelman back from suspension, expect to still see a lot of classic I-formation runs from New England. Sony Michel carried the ball on 25 of his 33 snaps last week, many of them behind lead-blocking fullback James Develin. This is a much more traditional first- and second-down offense than people realize. Left guard Joe Thuney’s pull-blocking is becoming a bigger deal on those early downs, both on “power” runs and on many of New England’s play-action throws, which quickly attack underneath defenders.

Bold Prediction: The Patriots will mount three drives of 10-plus plays against a Colts D that employs a lot of two-deep zone.

Score: Patriots 30, Colts 17

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