ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano and quarterback Andrew Luck met Denver media via conference call on Wednesday. Here a some of the highlights.
STRONG AND MOBILE
It's easy to forget that Stanford graduate Luck isn't just a mentally gifted quarterback. For all of his abilities to dissect defenses with his brain and change plays at the line of scrimmage, Luck is still a massive player to tackle at 6-4 and 240 pounds. He also ran a 4.67 in the 40-yard dash at the 2012 combine, not too far off the 4.59 that Cam Newton ran a year earlier.
Luck's combination of size and speed makes him effective late in the play both as a runner and a passer. How he balances the two options depends on a lot of factors.
"I think situationally – where you are in the game, what's going on – plays a factor," Luck said. "For me it's always trying to get the ball out of my hands into a playmakers' hands. That is goal No. 1.
"But I remember a long time ago, when I was a freshman with Coach [Jim] Harbaugh and then Coach [David] Shaw at Stanford—as a quarterback, if you can get a first down or two a game with your legs, that's a good thing."
Luck's head coach spent many years as a defensive coordinator trying to corral big quarterbacks, and is happy the tables have turned a bit.
"He reminds me of my days in Baltimore and having to play Pittsburgh," Pagano said, "trying to get Ben [Roethlisberger] on the ground. It was a task.
"Andrew is a big guy. He's a strong guy. He's got the ability to extend plays, as you guys have seen on tape and seen on game day. He can beat you with him arm and his mind and all that stuff, but he's got some legs on him, too.
"The play he made last week—he's got a big guy draped on him, hanging on his back, and he throws a strike to [Donte] Moncrief in the corner of the end zone. He's pretty special in that regard."
Handling Luck's size and ability to improvise on Sunday will be key for the Broncos on Sunday to avoid those big plays.
MILE HIGH MANIA
After the Broncos completed the season with a perfect home record for the sixth time in team history, there's no doubting the effect that the crowd at Sports Authority Field at Mile High has on opponents.
"Playing in Denver, playing at home, having our fans behind us is just that much more energetic," C.J. Anderson said Wednesday, noting that the offense can utilize the hurry-up more often and tire out defenses at altitude. "I've seen D-linemen put their hands on their head and I've seen people on the sideline trying to come in but we're getting to the ball so fast, they've got to hold them back so they don't get penalized. So it's been working."
Luck remembers the rowdy Mile High atmosphere from Sunday night in Week 1, when the Broncos fired out to a 24-0 first-half lead.
"Loud, rocking," Luck said. "A fun stadium to play in. You assume it's the playoffs so it's going to be amped up even more. So I think guys are definitely excited about that challenge."
"The good thing is we've already been down that road and played in that environment," Pagano added. "They know what to expect. Everything is amped up because of the playoffs and all that stuff. We've got good veteran leaders that understand that.
"We typically travel pretty well and stay pretty focused on the things that we need to focus on."
TALIB, HARRIS LEAD 'BALL-HAWKING' SECONDARY
With the league's leading passing attack in the regular season, the Colts will be looking to take advantage of a Broncos secondary that has been rock solid all season long. That unit's strengths begin with Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., a former college-duo at Kansas, manning the corners and shutting down receivers.
"Studs," Luck said when asked about the pair. "Both high quality players. They do a great job of getting their hands on footballs, getting a hand in there, pass break ups. You can tell they understand football. Tough, tough matchups."
"You've got two guys that can shadow, get up in people's faces, play great zone coverage, man coverage," Pagano added. "They've got instincts, awareness and ball skills. They run around. They can match up."
But both Luck and Pagano pointed out that the Broncos' talent in the secondary includes several others who are difficult to beat.
"You can't leave [Bradley] Roby out of the mix," Pagano said. "He's come in as a rookie and just watching him develop through the course of the season, watching the tape, he's playing at a high level.
"You've got two safeties that are darn good. They're No. 3 three (in total defense) in the league for a reason. Those guys on the back end have a lot to do with that."
Added Luck: "It's not just four guys. You'll see six, seven DBs out on the field. I think a 'ball-hawking' group. They understand football, they know what they are doing, and they do it well."
SURPRISE RBs IN KEY ROLES
Now in the 19th week of the NFL season, injuries have affected both teams and thrust relative unknown players into key roles. That rings truest at running back, where Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson have each faded to the background in recent weeks, with injuries playing a primary role.
The Broncos have used Anderson as their primary back since Hillman went down with a foot sprain in Week 10 in Oakland and he hasn't disappointed. The second-year undrafted rookie out of Cal picked up 1,057 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns in the second half of the season.
"There are a lot of yards gained after contact with C.J," Pagano said. "His legs are always moving, he's got a great jump cut, he's got good vision, he's got make-miss ability. He can create his own yards when there's nothing there.
"We've got to play very, very disciplined on the defensive side of the football and be gap-sound. We better tackle. We've got to bring our big boy pads."
On the other side of the ball, the Colts have had their own back step out from the shadows to be effective in big moments. Former sixth-round pick Dan "Boom" Herron had 83 total yards through 10 games of the season before Bradshaw's season was ended with a broken leg against the Patriots. With Richardson used primarily in running situations, Herron stepped in as a passing-down back without much drop off from Bradshaw. In the final six weeks of the season, Herron had 441 total yards from scrimmage, and he posted 141 more last week against the Bengals.
"[He's] very dynamic and can really do everything well," Luck said of Herron. "The checkdowns, the protection, running the football. He can burst it and take it 80 to the end zone. He can get the tough yards. So he's been a lot of fun to play with."
With an offensive line that has been hit by injuries and the emphasis on the passing game, the Colts' ground attack hasn't shown much bite, ranking 22 nd in yards per game and 25th in yards per play during the regular season. Though Herron has made much of his impact as a receiver, his rushing ability has been effective too.
"'Boom' having the success that he's having is great," Pagano said. "It's been hard to get the run game going. We've had a bunch of different lineups up front with the offensive line due to injuries and things like that.
"It's great to have a guy out there making some plays. Anytime you can run the ball, it's going to open up other things for you down the field in the passing game."