INDIANAPOLIS – Colts center Jeff Saturday stood at his locker on Monday afternoon with the resolve of a veteran. Guard Ryan Diem was just a couple of lockers away doing the same.
Both were facing questions about the club's offense after three games in 2011.
The veteran linemen have been a part of many NFL contests. Saturday has 184 regular-season appearances, along with playing in a club record-tying 19 post-season games. Diem has 148 appearances in league play, plus another 16 in post-season action.
Both know the team is finding its form in the early stages of the season. Both know growth will help for the remaining games ahead. While they are confident, they know work is to be done.
"Finishing drives, we stressed it the last couple of weeks," said Saturday. "Once we get in the red zone, we need to score touchdowns. We're scoring points, but we're kicking more field goals than we are getting touchdowns. Ultimately to put a good team away, which we could have done (last Sunday against Pittsburgh), you have to score TDs.
"We'll go back and look and see what we didn't do right to not punch it in. Ultimately, that's what we have to get done."
Indianapolis did punch the ball in during the final moments of last Sunday's game. The touchdown drive was preceded by a couple of other ventures downfield that ended with 21- and 25-yard field goals by Adam Vinatieri.
A 13-10 Colts lead entering the fourth quarter could have been a bit larger, and finding ways to maximize drives will be an aim as the Colts get ready for full preparation this week to meet Tampa Bay next Monday.
It is a difficult circumstance when a team loses a quarterback due to injury and must replace him during the course of the game. That happened to Indianapolis last Sunday when Kerry Collins was knocked from the line-up in the second half and Curtis Painter played the fourth quarter.
Collins exited after conducting seven possessions and Painter led five drives, including a one-play desperation drive in the final four seconds after Pittsburgh took a 23-20 lead. Collins was 13-of-29 for 93 yards, while Painter hit five-of-11 attempts for 60 yards.
While the team has not hit its stride completely on offense, Saturday knows the reason is far beyond one position.
"Yeah, this offense is everybody. It's not one guy," he said. "There are certain areas that we're improving on each week, but we have to be better. Red zone has to be better. We've got to be more efficient on third down and continuing drives. Those are the things that we'll stress and we'll keep working on. Hopefully, we'll catch up with the way our defense played.
"We're four weeks in. Peyton (Manning), he's not here, he's not playing and guys have to play with who's on the field. Whoever's out there, we have to be more consistent. We need to make sure that we're improving on third-down efficiency and in the red zone."
An aspect of the offense that has been operating consistently has been the running game. Indianapolis has had rushing averages of 4.0, 4.2 and 4.6 yards over the first three games. The team showed signs of improvement in the area toward the end of the 2010 season when it sported averages of 6.5, 4.9 and 4.0 yards over the final three outings. The club has not had six consecutive games with a 4.0 rushing average for many seasons, with the best such stretch being seven times in eight games during the 2000 campaign.
One barometer for success is when the club attempts at least 22 rushes in a contest. The Colts were 10-0 in such games in 2010, 10-1 in 2009 and 7-2 in 2008. The club won its last five games in 2008 when having at least 22 rushes, and the lone setback in 2009 was against the Jets in game 15. Indianapolis had 26 rushes against Cleveland and 21 last week against Pittsburgh, after having 16 attempts at Houston when a first-half deficit impeded matters.
Diem believes the club is showing overall improvement, and he likes the contributions of Joseph Addai (39 rushes, 189 yards) and rookie Delone Carter (22 rushes, 82 yards), the club's top rushers.
"We continue to improve in the passing game. The running game was pretty solid (against Pittsburgh)," said Diem. "I have to review it on tape to fully see it, but we ran the ball well. Joe (Addai) did a great job. Delone (Carter) came in and mixed it up a little bit. As long as we can keep protecting the ball, we're going to move it down the field."
Head Coach Jim Caldwell preaches to all players to secure the football. That and execution are essential for success, and the necessity to thrive deep in opposing territory is critical. Caldwell knows the importance of a running game in the red zone because the compact nature of that part of the field makes passes tougher to complete.
"What it boils down to is execution in that area," said Caldwell. "You just can't end up with minus-yardage plays. I believe that you have to be able to run the ball effectively, because the windows get squeezed on you a little bit. Then, obviously, when you get opportunities down there you have to be pretty tight with pinpoint passes as well, because you don't have a whole lot of room. We've just been looking off in some of those areas."
Addai tallied on a six-yard rush late in the Pittsburgh game. It was a gifted run by Addai, and the club could benefit from more scoring runs down deep. One observer who likes what he sees in the club's rushing game to date is Vice Chairman Bill Polian. Polian believes improvement in the ground attack is across the board with the entire offense.
"The bottom line is it's all across the board," said Polian. "The backs have always been good backs. Joseph (Addai) hasn't lost a thing. He came back from the injury tremendously well. Delone Carter has been a breath of fresh air. He's been a big addition, and Donald Brown hasn't had a chance to play yet. He's a good player. We're in pretty good shape there.
"The big change has been on the offensive line. They're coming off the ball. Their techniques on double-teams and on 'slip' blocks and on 'combination' blocks is better. They're not as good as they can be or will be on cutting off backside pursuit, but they're getting a lot better at it. So they're giving Joseph an alley on the backside which he got two big runs (against Pittsburgh). That's a real positive, and it will continue to get better."
As for Saturday, he is not discouraged and he is like all players who look forward to the next chance to compete.
"0-3 is not where this team expected to be after three games," he said. "We're disappointed where we are. The only way to fix it is go to work and get better. We have another game coming up this week and we have to get in the win category."