FOXBOROUGH — Count Patriots defensive end/linebacker Rob Ninkovich as one of the people who see much growth and maturity in Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck.
With the huge comeback win last week and a second season under his belt leading the Colts to an 11-5 record, there is some obvious respect being given to the Patriots’ upcoming opponent.
“I think Luck, this year, I think he’s playing with more confidence,” Ninkovich said. “Obviously last year being his first year and getting into situations and things that he can kind of control better this year, having that experience, just being more confident, that goes a long way as a quarterback, once you’ve seen everything, been in certain situations. Obviously them giving him a little bit more control with the things he does at the line of scrimmage for things versus what he sees.”
The way Luck has played — throwing for 3,822 yards and 23 touchdowns while cutting his interceptions in half (9) over his rookie campaign — will most definitely affect the way opponents handle their pass rush.
“As a defensive linemen, linebacker, you have to obviously be aware of the things he’s trying to check to if he sees a certain thing,” Ninkovich said. “And as a defensive end, you have to be aware if something breaks down, [he can] pull the ball down and try to run for a first down.”
Luck is the Colts’ third-leading rusher, tallying 377 yards on the ground.
“But I wouldn’t say he is a guy that is looking to run,” Ninkovich said. “First and foremost, he wants to throw the ball down the field and make plays with his arm. And when there is a breakdown where the D-line lets him see a 15-yard opening, he’s going to step up and he’s going to pull it down and run for the first down.
“So as a D-line, you have to be smart with your pass-rush lanes and still get pressure on him, affect him in the pocket, but not give him those scramble-ability lanes just to get a first down.”
Ninkovich was asked about linebacker Brandon Spikes, who was placed on injured reserve Monday, but the defensive captain didn’t want to lament the loss of yet another Patriots defensive starter, saying that the team has handled significant injuries before and will continue to do so.
“You lose a guy that has some intensity,” said Ninkovich. “In situations he comes in, he’s going to play hard. But again, the way this league works, you just have to deal with those losses.
“I think that for us to have the injuries and the things that we’ve had this year and still have success, it speaks volumes to the coaches and what they do to prepare everyone every week.
“Breaking down people’s individual roles and what they’re expected to do, that goes a long way. Whatever your role is, you perform and do it to the best of your abilities, and that’s how you win football games.”