Published September 13, 2013
| Sports Network
One team had a rookie quarterback in 2012 who had a perfectly respectable first season and is expected to make a significant jump is his sophomore year as a pro.
The other had Andrew Luck.
But the problem with having such a valuable asset as the No. 1 overall pick out of Stanford proved to be -- as the Indianapolis Colts are continuing to find out -- is that there's an extra premium on making sure he stays in one piece.
The second act of Luck's second chapter takes place Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Colts will face visiting Miami while aiming to keep their passer off the ground more than he was in the Week 1 opener against Oakland. The Raiders sacked Luck four times and harassed him for most of the afternoon before he scampered in for a decisive rushing touchdown with less than six minutes remaining.
Luck was sacked 41 times as a rookie -- the highest total for an Indianapolis QB since Jeff George in 1991.
"As long as 12 is upright and on his feet, we've got a much better chance of winning than losing," coach Chuck Pagano said. "We will exhaust everything to take care of him and keep him clean."
The beefed-up line, which added Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes in the draft and picked up Donald Thomas and Gosder Cherilus as free agents, have a premier passer-harasser to deal with this week in the form of Miami end Cameron Wake.
Wake had 15 sacks in 2012 and began the 2013 run with 2 1/2 in the Dolphins' win at Cleveland.
He dumped the then-rookie once in their Nov. 4 meeting last year, which the Colts won, 23-20, with Luck throwing the ball 48 times for 433 yards, a record for a first-year player.
"We're going to know where he's at, it's really no secret," Pagano said. "It's a different thing getting him blocked. He's very, very athletic, very powerful."
While Wake reached his target and earned the attention of the Indianapolis coaching staff, it's by no means a secret that Luck's prowess has set defensive players around the league to talking about him in reverential terms and making him a game-planning priority as well.
Miami intercepted three passes against the Browns and hopes to continue the ball-hawking mojo.
"He got us last year for over 400 yards, so that wasn't good on our part," cornerback Nolan Carroll said. "We've got to cover those guys man for man and we've got to keep him in the pocket. He won the game last week by running, so we've got to contain him and try and get him off rhythm. When he's in a rhythm, that's when their offense is unstoppable."
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, whom NFL.com labeled before the season as the player most likely to have a breakout 2013, began that quest by completing 24- of-38 passes against the Browns. He connected nine times with Brian Hartline, who was displaced by free agent Mike Wallace as the No. 1 wide receiver, but was very effective against a Cleveland defense geared to halt the newcomer.
Wallace had one catch for 15 yards against the Browns.
In last year's game with the Colts, Tannehill threw for 290 yards and a score.
"Certainly we know what he did versus us last year," Pagano said. "He has the arm to make all the throws and he has some skill guys around him that can make plays. He can burn you."
Wallace and Hartline notwithstanding, the Dolphins may make it a point to emphasize a running game that was all but absent against Cleveland -- gaining just 20 yards. Daniel Thomas had a TD in his eight-carry, 14-yard day while Lamar Miller gained all of three yards on 10 attempts.
"We're not going to lull ourselves to sleep thinking about how they ran for only 20 yards," Pagano said. "They're going to go to work to make sure they can run the football."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The success of the Dolphins' running game could rely on what's available to Tannehill through the air, making wideouts Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Hartline the ones to watch against the Indianapolis secondary.
If they can force the Colts to respect the pass and pull defenders out of the box to do so, lanes could open up for Thomas and Miller as a result.
Going the other way, the offensive line that surrendered four sacks against the woeful Oakland Raiders will have some serious explaining to do if the same happens this week with Miami.
Luck and Co. have to account for Wake as well as rookie Dion Jordan, whom Luck knows from his days at Stanford and Jordan's time at rival Oregon.
This one comes to which team do you believe in. Is it the Colts, who turned around dramatically in 2012, but won enough games in late settings to make one wonder if it was replicable a year later?
Or is it the Dolphins, who have an emerging quarterback, a more dangerous receiving corps and a hungry pass-rushing defense, but haven't seen .500 since the days of Chad Pennington?
In spite of the home field, it says here that it's Miami, and don't be surprised if folks refer back to this game come December at Wild Card tiebreaker time.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Dolphins 20, Colts 16