By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
Andrew Luck is not given to hyperbole.
The Indianapolis Colts second-year quarterback normally is as measured and exacting with his choice of words as he is under center on the football field.
But when Luck looks at the challenge ahead of him this afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium — the 4-0 Seattle Seahawks and their ultra-physical "Legion of Boom" defensive secondary — he holds little back.
"I think it's our biggest game of the year," Luck said. "I know it's very cliche. These guys are definitely good."
Even that might qualify as an understatement.
The Seahawks have the league's second-ranked scoring defense overall, and they rank fourth in yards allowed. The secondary is a big key in both regards, surrendering just 765 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
Opposing quarterbacks have managed just a 60.7 rating against Seattle, and the team already has seven interceptions.
Safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman have two picks each, and Thomas also has two of the Seahawks' six forced fumbles.
Turnovers were the key to Seattle's 23-20 overtime victory at Houston last week. The Seahawks erased a 20-3 halftime deficit in part because of two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The first pick took at least a field goal off the board deep in Seattle's territory. The fumble led to a Seattle field goal.
And the final interception was returned to the end zone by Sherman, tying the game with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.
All those turnovers don't come by accident. Seattle spends a special session practicing taking the ball away each Thursday.
"To us, it's the emphasis that we place on what we think is the most crucial element to winning and losing games," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. "We, in essence, dedicate a day to it so that we never forget to focus on it and pay attention. There's a competition on it all day long to see who wins between the offense and the defense.
"If the offense can throw a no-hitter, no turnovers in a day, then they win it. Otherwise, the defense wins it. It's just a continued emphasis on what we think is so crucial to us in how we play."
And it's a challenge to Luck and his offensive teammates. After struggling with its turnover ratio last season, Indianapolis (3-1) has 10 takeaways and just four giveaways through four games this year.
Luck has tossed just two interceptions, and he said limiting turnovers obviously is a focus every week. With Seattle's ability to use those takeaways to turn games around, however, it's an area receiving a little more attention this week.
"Coach Pagano has preached (ball protection) since day one," Luck said. "Turnover margin is (an) indicator, if not the biggest, of winning and losing. We do realize they can take it to the house if they get their hands on it."
Seattle's rare size makes the challenge all the more difficult.
Sherman and Chancellor are listed at 6-foot-3, and cornerback Brandon Browner stands 6-4. Only Thomas, at 5-10, falls in line with the majority of defensive backs in the NFL.
Frighteningly, Sherman began his college career at Stanford as a wide receiver and might still be learning on the job a bit as a cornerback. But his offensive background doesn't make him any less physical than his secondary mates, and this could be the most intimidating defensive backfield in the league.
"They play hard," Indianapolis offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "They rally to the football, and they do a great job of creating turnovers. We have to go out and execute our plan and secure the football, but we got to hit some big plays as well. This is the 15-round heavyweight fight that we've talked about quite a bit up until this point. That's what we anticipate on Sunday."
Running back Trent Richardson could take some of the onus off Luck and the passing game with a strong performance on the ground. Tight end Coby Fleener also could be a key.
Teams that have been able to line up in bunch formations with their wide receivers have found success creating space for their tight ends against Seattle. Last week, Houston's Matt Schaub completed 11 passes for 141 yards and one score to tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham.
A successful running game also could provide single coverage for wide receivers Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton on the outside. However they come, Luck knows he must take advantage of big-play opportunities when he sees them.
"We throw the ball," he said. "We take our chunks. There's only going to be so many chunk opportunities. I have to make sure I'm on my stuff to hit those chunks."
There's a fire in Luck's eyes that belies the quarterback's normally mild-mannered persona when he speaks about the Seahawks.
These are the games the great ones look forward to. Much will be made about the quarterback duel between Luck and Seattle's Russell Wilson, but the game could just as easily be decided by the running backs or the defensive lines.
Listening to Luck in the locker room this week, however, it's clear he realizes this could come down to his ability to stand up to the Legion of Boom.
"We've got our work cut out for us," he said. "We're excited about the challenge."