Slowing down Luck will be key for Ravens

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OWINGS MILLS - He commands the offense like a seasoned veteran. He's adept at reading and diagnosing opposing coverages. And he's technically sound with impeccable footwork and picture-perfect throwing mechanics.

Indianapolis Colts rookie Andrew Luck is far from a typical first-year quarterback.

He was the catalyst of the NFL's third-ranked passing offense during the regular season, was the guiding force behind a Colts team that finished the regular season 11-5 just a year after going 2-14 and he'll be a primary focal point for the Baltimore Ravens' defense as it attempts to slow down Indianapolis's offense amid Sunday's AFC Wild Card matchup at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

"He's a guy that's beyond his years," Ravens safety Bernard Pollard said of Luck. "He's a first-year guy, but he looks like he's been in the league four or five years. He's a heck of a quarterback."

The top pick in April's NFL draft, Luck threw for a rookie-record 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns during the regular season.

He struggled with turnovers (18 interceptions, five lost fumbles) - and his completion percentage was just 54 percent - but he's thrown for 297 yards or more eight times this year, helping to pick up the slack for a running game that's been stagnant for much of the season.

Indianapolis was tied for third-worst in the AFC in yards per carry during the regular season averaging just 3.8 yards per attempt.

But, behind Luck, the Colts have scored 27 points or more in four of their last eight games, including three of the last five, and they finished the regular season ranked fourth in the AFC in total offense (362.4 yards per game).

"[It's] really not so much the numbers as the way he has played," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said of Luck. "I think he's been very steady all the way through the season. ... He's very smart. When you watch him, this is something even when talking with [offensive coordinator] Jim [Caldwell], he's better than you even think.

"He's got a better arm than you want to think. He's stronger. He's faster. He's got more rotation on the ball. He's more accurate than you really want to think watching the tape. He's just a really talented guy. They have their quarterback for a long time to come."

Veteran Reggie Wayne led Indianapolis in both catches (106) and yards (1,355) during the regular season, but was just one of three Indianapolis wide receivers with 781 yards or more.

Speedy rookie T.Y. Hilton had 50 catches for 871 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. His average of 17.2 yards per catch was second-best in the AFC among wide receivers with 50 catches or more. Fellow speedster Donnie Avery had 60 catches for 781 yards and three scores. And rookie tight ends Dwayne Allen (45 catches, 521 yards, three TDs) and Coby Fleener (26 catches, 281 yards, two TDs) combined for another 71 catches, 802 yards and five scores.

The Colts threw the ball on nearly 65 percent of their offensive snaps during the regular season.

Luck threw for a season-high 433 yards amid a 23-20 win against the Miami Dolphins in early November.

Asked Wednesday if he still views Luck as a rookie at this point, Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said: "Not really."

"The first day of OTAs I didn't think he was rookie," Pagano said. "He's such a mature kid and understands this game. He prepares so well, and his focus is unbelievable. We know all the intangibles. We know the physical talent is there. He's extremely intelligent, he's gotten better, and he's his own worst critic.

"But the great thing about Andrew is he is unflappable. He's able to come off after a mistake was made - a turnover or something - he's able to look at things and see what happened, what was the breakdown and put it behind him and move on."

But Luck did struggle some during final part of the regular season.

He threw three interceptions against the Detroit Lions in Week 13 and was then limited to 196 yards or less in three of the Colts' final four regular season games.

Meanwhile, protecting Luck continues to be a problem for Indianapolis's offensive line. Luck was sacked 41 times during the regular season, the fourth-most of any NFL quarterback.

The Ravens finished the regular season ranked just 17th out of the NFL's 32 teams in pass defense (228.1 yards per game) and were tied for just 15th in sacks (37), but they did allow the fourth-fewest yards per game (299.0) during the final six weeks of the regular season.

"We just have to make sure we get in Luck's face at all times, and we have to try to make him make mistakes," Pollard said. "We've got to try to make him make mistakes. We've got to sack him. We've got to get the ball out of his hands. But he knows and understands what's going on. It's going to be a very good game."