When Andrew Luck gazes over Cincinnati’s defence Sunday, he’ll see some of the league’s top pass rushers.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins often gets the interior push. Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson routinely bring the outside pressure.
So with Luck making his first start in more than 20 months, the Cincinnati Bengals hope to make life miserable as the Colts quarterback reacclimatizes himself to regular-season life in the NFL.
“My biggest concern, they have a really good front seven,” Luck said. “It’s always a tough defence. Geno Atkins is a heck of a player, Dunlap on the edge, got guys that can cover. So it’s always a challenge.”
Circumstances could make this season opener even more challenging for Indy.
Long-time left tackle Anthony Castonzo missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury and was limited in practice earlier this week. Denzelle Good, who appeared to be the favourite at right tackle, hasn’t played since hurting his left knee in the third preseason game.
Then, there’s rookie left guard Quenton Nelson, the No. 6 pick. He’s likely to draw the assignment on Atkins, and there’s no assurance second-year running back Marlon Mack will return from a hamstring injury that has kept him off the field since the preseason opener. If Mack can’t play, rookies Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines may be asked to help protect Luck, one of the league’s highest-paid players.
No, it’s not an ideal start for a quarterback who missed the 2017 season while recovering from surgery on his throwing shoulder.
But the Colts may not have a choice.
“We will do everything we can do to neutralize the pass rush – no matter what five guys are up front,” new coach Frank Reich said. “And that will be No. 1 on the pass game agenda each week: How do you protect the passer?”
The Bengals have other concerns after losing eight straight in Indy.
They’re expecting to face a crowd eager to welcome back Luck and capable of making enough noise to slow down the pass rushers.
“I think everybody there is going to be excited,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We know the kind of player that he is. I guess if you’re going to play Andrew Luck, you’d rather be playing him now than Week 12.”