Stephen Holder, email@example.com
October 22, 2014
(Photo: Star photo illustration)
He demonstrates his brute strength each time he refuses to be taken down. He believes a play is never over, whether the pocket is clean or a defender has him tightly in his grasp. He responds to bone jarring hits by patting his nemeses on the head.
He is Andrew Luck.
He is also Ben Roethlisberger.
The two men are among the strongest, toughest, most physically imposing quarterbacks in the game. Their teams – the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively – meet each other Sunday, pitting the quarterbacks in their first head-to-head matchup.
They routinely leave defenders in their wakes by turning would-be sacks into big plays for their own teams.
For each, the ability to brush off even the biggest, meanest defender with the worst of intentions seems uncanny.
"I remember watching a lot of Pittsburgh film as a rookie to try and learn coach (Bruce) Arians' offense. Half the time, you're sort of putting the clicker down saying, 'Oh my gosh, how does this guy do that?'" Luck said of Roethlisberger, the two-time Super Bowl winner. "He's an incredible, incredible quarterback. He's obviously a multiple Super Bowl winner and done so many things. His ability to extend plays is amazing."
Luck's ability to stay upright is similarly amazing.
Remember the preseason play when 258-pound New Orleans Saints linebacker Junior Galette literally jumped on Luck's back and Luck still managed to get a pass off? It's hard to say whether it was Luck's rare strength or unwavering focus that was more impressive on the play.
"Andrew," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said, "has beat opposing defenses because of that ability."
If you think that ability is impressive from a distance, try watching it up close. Colts rookie center Jonotthan Harrison has gotten a front-row seat for Luck's feats. He's been as surprised by them as unsuspecting defenders who are not expecting to be stiff-armed by a quarterback.
"Not long after I got here, I was hanging out with a teammate and we were playing Madden (the video game) and he was using the Colts," Harrison recalled. "He just started scrambling all over the place with Luck. I was like, 'Hold up, what?' Then in practice when I saw him, I started putting two and two together. This guy's really, really an athlete. And he's so tough."
Unlike some other quarterbacks who are seen as athletic or scramblers, neither Luck nor Roethlisberger necessarily wants to run the ball. When they leave the pocket, there is a singular intent: Keep the play alive.
They're looking down the field for receivers, tight ends, running backs. They want to deliver the ball, not carry it. And if either has to out-muscle a defensive end in the process, so be it.
Along those lines, Luck said he has "an obligation" to "extend the pass play first."
With Luck and Roethlisberger, there is an element of defiance in their games at work. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin sees it often in his quarterback.
"He's a competitor first and a quarterback second," Tomlin said. "I think that's exemplified in how he plays."
"It's about being a competitor and not giving up, going down easy and fighting to the whistle," Roethlisberger said.
The quarterbacks themselves don't throw in the towel, but the defensive players they fend off may wish to. The inability to bring down these physical quarterbacks takes a steady toll.
"As a quarterback, you know that if you can extend a play during a game, it can be demoralizing to a defense," Luck said. "If you convert a first down or get a touchdown, that can really help. But (Roethlisberger) is certainly the master at that."
Said Roethlisberger: "You can sense it and you can hear it. I'll have players sometimes that'll comment, 'Man, it's hard to get you down,' and all kinds of different things. You definitely know it's in their heads."
The Colts have protected Luck more effectively this season, making his escapes less necessary. The team yielded 2.6 sacks per game in 2012, Luck's rookie season. In 2013, the Colts gave up 2 per game. And so far this season, the Colts are allowing 1.6 sacks per game.
But on those rare occasions when pass protection breaks down, the Colts' offensive linemen have a little peace of mind, knowing their quarterback does not go down easy.
"Every defender, they're licking their chops for a sack," Harrison said. "So, when they come at (Luck) for a sack, and they get shed by a quarterback, that's so frustrating. You'll see them pound their fist and you can tell."
There likely will be some exasperated defenders on Sunday at Heinz Field. With Luck and Roethlisberger, it is an inevitability.