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Believe it or not, Andrew Luck might be the best quarterback the Dolphins have faced all season — or, at least since Week One, when they faced Texans QB Matt Schaub.
Key matchup: Colts QB Andrew Luck vs. Dolphins defense
With one of the league’s best run defenses, led by DTs Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, the Dolphins are forcing teams to throw often. The pass defense has given up a lot of yards (27th in the league), but it has held strong on third down (first in the league) and has given up only eight passing touchdowns.
Luck has attempted at least 44 passes in 4-of-7 games, and he is likely to be in that range on Sunday — unless RBs Donald Brown or Vick Ballard find holes to run through, which is unlikely. Luck will be without his college teammate, TE Coby Fleener (shoulder), but has another athletic rookie tight end to target, Dwayne Allen, and the Dolphins have struggled covering tight ends this season.
Luck’s go-to pass catcher has been Reggie Wayne, who has been one of the best wideouts in the league this season. He will match up against Dolphins CB Sean Smith, who has manned up top receivers this season, including Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald. Smith has good size and will be physical with Wayne, and while Smith has given up some big plays, he’s playing the best football of his career as the team’s top corner.
Rookie WR T.Y. Hilton could be a nice outlet for Luck, as should dump-off passes to Brown. Miami’s strength is in the front seven, and Luck will want to attack the safeties and keep DE Cameron Wake and the pass rush at bay. Miami, on the other hand, will look to force the rookie to turn it over. Luck has thrown eight picks and lost three fumbles this season.
As good as the Dolphins’ defense has been, especially during their current three-game win streak, there are still questions about the pass defense, and if it can hold up against a good passing offense. The schedule has worked favorably for the Dolphins to this point. Miami's defensive players were vocal this week in lauding what they saw from Luck on tape, so they will be ready for him.
With the way Miami’s defense has gone, the key matchup is often focused on their opponent’s air attack, and not to compare Luck to Tom Brady, but the Dolphins do have two big games looming against the Patriots, and the secondary could use a good test.
One big advantage that the Dolphins should have in defending Luck is in the trenches. Wake has been a star, and Jared Odrick and rookie Olivier Vernon also can get after the passer. When that happens, the linebackers need to be ready, as Luck has mobility to scramble for big gains. The Colts’ O-line is far from a team strength, and putting the rookie signalcaller under pressure will make things easier for the secondary and set Miami up to get a big win in a game that has AFC wild-card playoff implications.