By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
Andrew Luck’s remarkable rookie season wouldn’t be quite as much fun without a certain element of risk.
Though the Indianapolis Colts quarterback doesn’t present the same level of rushing threat as a Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton, he has already run for a franchise quarterback-record five touchdowns and gained 159 yards on 34 carries, an average of 4.7 yards per attempt.
Of course, all that running opens Luck up to more contact.
And more hits could lead to the sort of playoff chase-stifling results suffered by four teams last weekend.
The Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles each lost starting quarterbacks to injury in Week 10.
Chicago’s Jay Cutler, San Francisco’s Alex Smith and Philadelphia’s Michael Vick suffered concussions Sunday that will sideline them indefinitely. The Bears and Eagles lost while the Niners struggled to a tie at home against the St. Louis Rams.
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger left Monday night’s slim victory against the Kansas City Chiefs with what was first described as a shoulder injury. On Wednesday, several national media outlets reported Roethlisberger also has a rib injury that could threaten his life if he returns to action before he heals. A broken rib is said to be pressing against Roethlisberger’s aorta, a rare injury reportedly last detected in a hockey player in 1998.
So will all that carnage change the way Luck plays the game?
“I think that is the nature of the game,” the 6-foot-4, 234-pounder said of the rash of recent QB injuries. “I don’t think anybody can play up to their potential if they’re worried about getting injured.”
That can safely be taken as a, “No.”
But there’s a fine line quarterbacks must walk.
Coaches want players to be aggressive and use any talent at their disposal to make a play and keep the chains moving. At the same time, discretion often is called for.
“You can’t play scared,” Colts interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “You just have to play smart.”
If Cutler had slid instead of trying to pull up and throw a pass in front of Houston linebacker Tim Dobbins, for instance, the Bears’ immediate playoff fortunes might not be in the hands of Jason Campbell. Likewise, Pittsburgh and San Francisco could be continuing their playoff chases this week behind Byron Leftwich and Colin Kaepernick, respectively.
Philadelphia is on the outside looking in but could be forced to try to get back into the race behind rookie Nick Foles.
It’s a dilemma Colts backup Drew Stanton faced during his four years with the Detroit Lions.
Stanton appeared in 13 games with four starts, compiling a 2-2 record in the Motor City while throwing for 1,158 yards with five touchdowns and nine interceptions.
“I think it’s just a weekly preparation thing, where you’re prepared to play,” Stanton said. “More times than not, you’re not going to get the chance to go out there. But you don’t want there to be a dropoff.”
Stanton said it’s important for backups to listen carefully to every word the offensive coordinator says during practice and to prepare mentally each week as though he’ll be the starter. Once the game starts, Stanton watches the action with the same eye he would if he was on the field. That allows him to spot adjustments by the opposing defense or suggest changes to Luck immediately on the sideline.
“You saw some guys come in this past weekend and have success,” Stanton said. “You saw other guys come in and struggle and lose games for their teams. So you definitely don’t want to be in the latter position, where you cost your team a victory, especially later on in the season where everybody’s vying for playoff spots.”
The balance is especially important in today’s NFL, where 15 of the 32 teams — including the Colts — carry just two quarterbacks on the active roster. If the starter goes down and his backup follows, well ...
“You could really find yourself in hard times, unless you’re like a Buffalo that could have (former college quarterback and current wide receiver) Brad Smith get in there and do some stuff,” Stanton said. “But, other than that, it’s something that I’m sure no NFL team wants to find out.”