Luck back on Colts' side against Bengals
Quarterback Andrew Luck makes his first start for the Indianapolis Colts in 19 months after recovering from right shoulder surgery when they host the Cincinnati Bengals at 1 p.m. (ET) on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The object is to keep Luck upright because that's how he was injured, by constantly taking punishment as the Colts' offensive line couldn't consistently keep defenders off him.
Luck actually was looking forward to some contact during the preseason and was excited to get up unscathed after being sacked by Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens.
"I told (left tackle) Anthony (Castonzo) on the sideline, I said, 'Man, it was sort of fun to get hit by Suggs right there,' and (Castonzo) he gave me a death stare," Luck said.
You can expect the Bengals to send their pass rushers after Luck, and they do have some guys who can get after the quarterback.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins led Cincinnati with 9.0 sacks last season and leads NFL defensive tackles with 61 sacks since 2010.
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap had 7.0 sacks a year ago and has at least seven in each of the last five seasons. He had 1.5 sacks, an interception returned for a touchdown, a forced fumble, a recovered fumble and two passes defensed in two games against the Colts last season.
And linebacker Carl Lawson led NFL rookies with 8.5 sacks last season.
The Colts have taken steps to improve up front, and are touting left guard Quenton Nelson, their No. 1 draft choice, as the best offensive line prospect they have had in more than a decade.
Castonzo and center Ryan Kelly also were first-round draft picks, and with right guard Matt Slauson give Indianapolis perhaps the makings of its best offensive line in about 10 years.
The problem is, the Colts have yet to decide on a starting right tackle from among Joe Haeg (the favorite), Denzelle Good, rookie Braden Smith and J'Marcus Webb, which might give the Bengals a place to start their attack on Luck.
The Bengals, who have won three of the last four games against the Colts but still trail the all-time series, 17-11, are led by an offense that includes quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver A.J. Green and running back Joe Mixon.
Dalton passed for 3,320 yards last season, joining Peyton Manning and Cam Newton as the only quarterbacks to throw for more than 3,000 yards in each of their first seven seasons.
Green led the Bengals a year ago with 75 catches for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns, his sixth season with more than 1,000.
Mixon had 913 yards from scrimmage yards as a rookie (626 rushing, 287 receiving).
It could turn into a shootout if Luck plays back to his old form, having amassed 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2016, his last season. In two games against the Bengals, Luck has thrown for 670 yards, with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
With Luck back, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton should improve on his numbers from last season, when he had 57 receptions for a team-high 966 yards and four touchdowns.
Hilton, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, is one of four receivers in the NFL with 900-plus yards receiving in each of the last five seasons, joining Antonio Brown, Green and Demaryius Thomas.
Jack Doyle gives Luck another reliable option after ranking second in the league among tight ends with a career-high 80 receptions last season, earning him his first Pro Bowl appearance.
The Colts had hoped to start the season with running back Marlon Mack, who had 583 total yards and four touchdown as a rookie, as starter but he missed much of the preseason because of a hamstring injury suffered in the first game.
If Mack isn't ready for Sunday, expect rookie Jordan Wilkins to get the start after he rushed for 75 yards in the preseason, with rookie Nyheim Hines in reserve.
Running back Robert Turbin will miss the first four games of the regular season for using performance-enhancing drugs.
If it comes down to a field goal at the end of the game, the Colts would appear to have the advantage with Adam Vinatieri, who in addition to being very reliable has made a number of memorable kicks in his career.
Vinatieri ranks second in NFL history with 2,487 points scored and needs only 58 points to break the NFL record held by Hall of Famer Morten Andersen (2,544).
Updated September 5, 2018