INDIANAPOLIS – When Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians convened the Colts around 8:40 a.m. today, he did so with a question and a picture relating to this Sunday’s opponent – New England.
Arians asked how many of his players would be visiting Foxborough for the first time. He did not mean the quaint, picturesque town of roughly 17,000 citizens. He was referring to the stadium which would house 70,000 partisans on Sunday.
“It’s funny, I had a show of hands, ‘How many guys in the locker room is this their first time to Foxborough?’ Way too many (laughs),” said Arians.
Then he put up a picture of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to acquaint them the champion performer on a team full of talented players. It was to introduce his young players ahead of time so they “don’t get caught up in standing there watching him.”
Arians has a keen feel for his team, one that has gone from 2-3 to 6-3 by keeping focus on details and its gaze on one game at a time.
The Colts and Patriots will be meeting for the tenth straight season this Sunday, and the contest will be the 13th held during that span.
The Colts invade Foxborough with only 18 players who were with the team prior to this season. Nine rookies are sprinkled among 26 Colts with no more than two years league experience. They will face a veteran opponent with a veteran coach, a team that leads its division with the same 6-3 mark Indianapolis has forged.
One player making his series debut, and who had to raise his hand today, was
“They (young QBs) have to realize they don’t play Tom Brady. They have to get ready for their (New England’s) defense,” said Arians. “The best way to handle Tom Brady is play real good yourself and keep him on the bench.”
Keeping Brady and the New England offense bottled up has been a task. The Patriots average 33.2 points and 430.3 yards a game, both NFL-leading totals. Brady has 18 touchdown passes to three interceptions. The team ranks in the top five in the league in seven measured offensive categories. Additionally, Luck faces a Patriots defense that tops the AFC with 23 takeaways.
Arians is specific with his marching orders to Luck.
“It’s matter of you executing your offense, scoring as many points as you can. Let the team take care of the rest,” said Arians.
Luck is a well-packaged product of his own with the highest winning percentage (.667) among any starting quarterback taken first overall at this point of a rookie season. He has directed the Colts to four fourth-quarter or overtime wins and knows maximizing possessions is crucial.
“We realize how prolific their offense is,” said Luck. “I wouldn’t discount their defense by any means. They’re a great football team. We realize we’re going to have to put some points on the board to have a chance to win. Hopefully, we can.”
Luck admitted to being an interested viewer for some of the previous series battles between the teams. As an aspiring talent, he felt Peyton Manning-Brady matchups were almost appointment viewing.
“I know as a younger quarterback, you always tried to watch that game just because it was two sort of benchmark-for-the-position guys,” said Luck. “I remember some of the playoff games, some of the late games. I think when Gillette (Stadium) still had grass it was always muddy, late in the year. They were great games, great franchises.”
Arians was with Colts teams that went into Foxborough from 1998-2000, and he was with Cleveland and Pittsburgh when the Colts-Patriots series took the form for which it is known.
Arians was around a young Ben Roethlisberger and helped prepare him for the experience of facing New England and Head Coach Bill Belichick. It was not about matching Brady throw-for-throw, and that is the approach this Sunday for Arians with Luck.
“I think that’s my job to make sure he doesn’t feel that way, ‘You just stay within yourself, within our offense. You’ve been doing a pretty good job so far,’ ” said Arians. “They’re number one in the AFC, we’re number three. We’re not that far off. Just do what we’ve been doing.”