ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Two games in the last two seasons against Andrew Luck and the Colts offense were enough to convince the Broncos of the third-year veteran's status as one of the game's most talented and versatile quarterbacks.
Yes, the Colts pass more often than any other playoff team -- on 62.44 percent of their plays. But that doesn't mean the Broncos can dismiss the Colts on the ground. Running back Daniel "Boom" Herron's emergence is one reason, but Luck's scrambling ability might be the biggest reason. The Broncos can't ignore Luck's willingness to take off and take on defenders.
"Even when they're one-dimensional, they're not one-dimensional because he'll take off and run it," said Broncos Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio. "So I guess you're getting their run game that way. he's a good quarterback. He's a good competitor."
And at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Luck has the size to shake off pass rushers, which has helped the Colts withstand injuries and instability along their offensive line.
Just as Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning uses his quick reads and delivery to negate pressure, Luck utilizes his feel for the rush and his physical strength to dodge and shed defenders, neutralizing an oppoing pass rush by forcing defenses to read and react rather than attack.
"He's kind of like a 'Big' Ben Roethlisberger. You can't tackle him low -- you have to tackle his arm," said Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "And that's something that we've been focusing on, is trying to bring him down. He's a big guy, so you can't bring him down by his waist, so you've got to try to get him from up high."
Broncos running back Jeremy Stewart was a teammate of Luck's for four seasons at Stanford, and saw Luck's football intelligence right away. Stewart's advice? Do your best to mask your intentions.
"They usually go to the line with multiple calls and he tries to get them into the best plays," Stewart said. "so the better they can disguise and disguise their looks, the better off the defense will be."
Another Bronco can draw only from college experience -- on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Rookie linebacker Todd Davis was a New Orleans Saint when the Broncos defeated the Colts in Week 1. Unlike his new teammates, he looks to the first game of his college career for guidance. Davis was a true freshman at FCS Sacramento State when the Hornets traveled to Palo Alto, Calif. to face the Cardinal on Sep. 4, 2010.
"You can imagine the score of that game," he said, with a knowing smile.
The Hornets lost, 52-17. But he got a first glimpse as to what he might face Sunday, as Luck completed 17 of his 23 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns, adding a 14-yard carry that showed the multi-dimensional skills that have only increased since then.
"You definitely have to know where he is, because out of nowhere, he will take off and run," Davis said. "He's not afraid to lower his shoulder and get those extra yards. You've got to know where he is at all times, as well as know where your coverage is."
That sums up the experience of facing Luck for opposing linebackers. On the one hand, you must maintain your coverage responsibilities, which is more difficult now than ever with three short- and central-area pass-catching threats: tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and Herron, who led the Colts with 10 receptions last week.
"In the red zone, we have to be aware of No. 80 (Fleener) and 83 (Allen), definitely," said Harris. "Those are the guys that he (Luck) wants in the red zone. His bigger body guys, because most of his receivers are small, other than (Hakeem) Nicks. So we've got to be aware of those guys -- especially in the red zone, because that's where he likes to go."
But Luck goes to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton more often, which helped the 5-foot-9, 178-pounder snag a Pro Bowl appearance after an 82-reception, 1,345-yard season.
Harris held Hilton to one catch on three passes thrown at him when he was in coverage in Week 1 as all Broncos defenders minimized the damage from Hilton, who had 41 yards on five catches.
Luck will involve Nicks and emerging rookie Donte Moncrief in the passing game. The latter, who had a 36-yard touchdown last Sunday in the Colts' wild-card win over Cincinnati, could be an X-factor.
"He just adds another downfield threat for them," said Harris. "He's looked pretty good on film. It looks like he's a capable receiver to beat you. We know we've got to have our A-plus game against him, too."
Indianapolis' offense asks difficult questions. But the Broncos' defense led the AFC in yardage allowed per game and per play, and they believe they have the answers.