INDIANAPOLIS | Andrew Luck delivered on his promise as the NFL's top draft pick. He took the Colts to the playoffs last season and has them in position to win a division title this year.
St. Louis is still waiting for Sam Bradford to produce the same kind of results.
What could have been a showdown between the two former No. 1 picks today at Lucas Oil Stadium is instead more of an example of why there are no sure bets in the draft.
"Nobody missed that guess," new Rams starter Kellen Clemens said when asked to assess Luck. "I think the biggest thing that stands out when you look at the body of work he's done is his composure in the fourth quarter. That's a feather in any quarterback's cap."
Bradford hasn't been bad.
The 2008 Heisman Trophy winner set NFL rookie records for completions and attempts en route to winning the 2010 offensive rookie of the year award — two awards Luck did not capture. He just hasn't been as lucky as the Colts quarterback.
Luck landed with a team that already had veteran leadership, a proven Pro Bowl receiver he could lean on, the two top tight ends in the draft and coaching continuity. The result has been a steady progression with Luck improving his touchdown total, trimming his interceptions and continuing to win.
Bradford, meanwhile, played for two head coaches and three offensive coordinators in his first three NFL seasons. This season, he was trying to get in sync with a whole new cast — free agent tight end Jared Cook, rookie receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and rookie running back Zac Stacy — when he tore the ACL in his left knee against in a victory at Houston. Out for the season.
At the time, St. Louis was 3-3. Since Clemens took over, the Rams have lost three straight.
Meanwhile, Luck has thrived. Last season, he produced the second biggest turnaround in league history and this year the Colts (6-2) are in control of the division chase. The Colts are not surprised that Luck has lived up to the hype.
"He's definitely got the 'it' factor," coach Chuck Pagano said of his franchise quarterback. "Besides the measurables, height, weight, speed, athleticism, arm talent, intangibles, football IQ, leadership, all those type of things you look for — guys that are poised, in command — some guys have it and some guys don't. And it's pretty easy and pretty obvious to see early in a guy's career."
Here are things to watch today:
DOUBLE TROUBLE: Now that Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have been broken up, the most feared pass-rushing tandem in the NFL might be in St. Louis. While Mathis leads the NFL with 11½ sacks, Robert Quinn leads the NFC with 10, Chris Long is in the conference's top 10 with 5½ and the Rams are tied for third in the NFL with 29 sacks.
REPLACING REGGIE: Luck led the Colts to another fourth-quarter comeback last weekend, but it was hardly pretty. In Indy's first game in 15 years without either Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne on the field, Luck went 18 of 40 and was victimized by enough drops to stall the offense for most of the first three quarters. This week, the Colts need to figure out a more suitable way to replace their most consistent receiver.
DELIVERY MEN: Austin and Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton have more in common than their smallish size and the fact that they were brought in to help their franchise quarterbacks. Austin, at 5-foot-8, 176 pounds, is becoming an important part of the Rams offense. He leads all rookies with 31 receptions. Hilton, at 5-9 and 178, led last year's NFL rookies with seven TD catches and is becoming an important cog with Wayne out with a torn ACL. Both are deep threats and could have a major impact today.
FOURTH ESTATE: Luck gets most of the credit for Indy's late-game success, but he's only part of the equation. The Colts defense has allowed only 29 fourth-quarter points this season, 16 coming in the Oct. 20 game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. In the other seven games, the Colts have allowed an average of 1.9 points in the final 15 minutes.
TEAM CLEAN: Pagano talks extensively about avoiding mistakes. Nobody has done that better than the Colts, who have a league-low six turnovers and a league-low 31 penalties.