INDIANAPOLIS – There may have been nicer anniversary presents Kerry Collins has received over the years than the one he will get on Sunday, his one-month anniversary with the Colts.
Collins will mark the occasion by opening a nationally-televised game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Lucas Oil Stadium.
As a person, there likely have been other celebratory events in life that afforded different types of niceties. As an athlete, however, Collins will look forward again to the thrill of competition, and it will come against a revered opponent.
"Pittsburgh's kind of defense, you always have to be ready for anything," said Collins. "They certainly have a variety of blitzes that you have to prepare for during the week. If they're not the toughest team to prepare for, they're definitely one of the toughest."
Collins joined Indianapolis a day before the Green Bay preseason game on August 26. He had first-half snaps against Cincinnati in the finale on September 1, then faced Houston on September 11 and Cleveland last Sunday.
Through two games, he has hit 35-of-69 passes for 388 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He operated the club's no-huddle attack against the Browns and was 19-of-38 for 191 yards with one touchdown and interception.
Collins and the offense showed improvement from the opener, and he helped guide four scoring drives last week that had 10 or more plays, but netted three field goals and a touchdown. The club moved the ball well during parts of the game, but found the going tougher in the red zone.
Three of kicker Adam Vinatieri's four field goals were 39, 27 and 36 yards when the club did not capitalize completely in Cleveland territory. The attention to red zone production is an emphasis point this week in preparation for Pittsburgh, as are third-down conversions. The club aims to convert better on that, too.
"That's definitely an emphasis for us," said Collins. "We have to get better in those two areas. We had opportunities last week and we didn't capitalize on them. We will focus on it this week, make it an emphasis and hopefully get better."
The no-huddle made an appearance for Indianapolis last Sunday. Collins felt heading into the game that the offense really accommodated the tactic, and he felt comfortable running it.
"My comfort level is high. I feel like I'm getting more familiar (with it) every day," he said. "I felt like we did some things better this past week than we did it in week one. The more I do it, the more I'm going to get familiar with it and get more comfortable and confident I'm going to be with it. I pretty much feel like I make strides every day."
Tight end Dallas Clark started learning the offense when he was drafted in 2003. Clark was joining the Indianapolis offense as it was beginning to hit its stride, and it did not slow down for him. He remembers the challenges he faced, and Clark believes Collins is adapting well.
"It's coming," said Clark of his increasing comfort with Collins and Collins' acclimation with the difficult attack. "Understanding the situation, it's not reality that he's going to step in and do 'this' and 'this' and get the ball here and there like it has been in the past. I think we're working toward that. I think he's getting more comfortable with everything, and I think that's kind of what we need to focus on. Focus on getting better each week and making plays. Things like that will help get the flow going."
Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian knows the learning process Collins is going through. Polian lauds Collins for his aptitude and fluency with the attack, but he is realistic that the team will not be able to operate at the same level and pace it did with Peyton Manning at the controls.
"For the foreseeable future, they're (games) not going to be the kind of high-octane offensive efficiency that we're used to seeing," said Polian. "You can't have that. Kerry (Collins) can't do that. He doesn't know enough about the offense to be able to do that. No one could. It did not matter who we brought in. You could resurrect Johnny U. and it's the not the same without Peyton at the helm. That's because of his experience, all the studying that he does and because he knows every single little intricacy. There was a situation (Sunday) where we missed a big play because a receiver didn't read the right 'hot' route. 'Hot' route means if you see a blitz coming you have to change your route, call it 'sight adjust,' whatever you want to call it. Kerry did, he saw it coming. Kerry knew what he was doing. He was prepared. Peyton would have stopped calling signals, pointed and said to the receiver, 'That's the guy you read off.' That's what 14 years of experience gives you. That's what gesticulating does. They are 'alerts.' He knows how to operate the offense to absolute maximum capacity. No one else can do that. That's just the way it is. There's no sense worrying about it or pining about it. You have to play the hand you're dealt. We're very realistic about it around here. We're not the least bit down in the mouth. We're going to keep slugging. If we make the improvement this week that we made last week, we'll be in good shape."
Collins has faced the Steelers on five previous occasions, 1996 with Carolina, 2000 with the New York Giants and 2008-10 with Tennessee. He has hit 104-of-163 attempts for 1,107 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He knows you have to have patience in facing the talented defensive unit.
"They're a great defense, they're a veteran defense," said Collins. "They can make plays and they have everything you want in a defense. At times, they're going to make plays. You just have to be patient and try not to make huge mistakes that put yourself in bad situations.
"You have to be ready. You have to be willing to get into the right plays and make sure you know where your problems are. They can bring guys from anywhere, and, obviously, you have some great players. We just have to be ready for whatever they bring."
A boost for Collins would be for the Colts to run the ball as effectively as they did in the first two games when the club had 4.0 and 4.2 averages. The ability to run will help the offense achieve the balance it seeks week to week.
"The running game has been good," said Collins. "We're always striving for that balance. I thought we did a good job running the ball the other day. We need to keep doing that. It's a big part of what we want to do. Joe's (Addai) running great. The line is giving us some holes, and we'll keep trying to have that balance."