by Ben Muth
Last week, in the comments section, I made a comment about Jeff Saturday being old and broken down. People rushed to Saturday’s defense and it made me realize that the last time I had seen him play, it was against the Jets in the 2010 playoffs. While I didn’t remember thinking he played great, he certainly didn’t look broken down, as I put it. So this week I decided to do get another look at the multi-time Pro Bowler and his 2011 Colts teammates. I reviewed their Week 17 game against the Jaguars.
The Colts are an interesting line to watch. They didn’t play great against Jacksonville, and I imagine that they probably played like this all year. If this game was any indication, they were a bad unit. That being said, I don’t think the individual players are that bad. The problem is that all of them do just enough not to get beat... well, except for one notable exception which I'll get to in a minute. No one is winning and creating room, so the end result is just a big mass of humanity. I think four of the five could be acceptable starters, but when they’re all together, none of them can do enough individually to make the line stellar. It would be like having a rotation full of Jon Garlands.
They also received no help from their tight ends. It didn’t matter who the Colts had in there -- they all got it handed to them by Jacksonville’s defensive ends. Dallas Clark’s lack of blocking skill is widely known, but Brody Eldridge isn’t much better either. That can go a long way towards making a line look worse than it is, but this isn’t a column about tight ends, so let’s get to the big'uns.
Since he inspired the column, I’ll start with Saturday. He had great footwork in the running game. It was clinic-worthy tape. He takes short, quick, and powerful steps all the way through a double team and into the second level. I was surprised by how quick he still gets off the ball, because he’s so efficient with his feet it doesn’t look like he’s moving that fast. However, when you watch him compared to everyone else, it’s clear that he’s a step ahead. This footwork is the main reason Saturday is still good in combination blocks, whether he stays on the nose tackle or works up to the linebackers. And honestly, that’s 85 percent of what a center does in the running game.
One negative thing I did notice is that Saturday tends to duck his head when he sees someone running at him with a head of steam. Rather than dip his hips and deliver a blow, he kinds of braces and accepts it. One time it hurt him was during the two-minute drill at the end of the first half. Jeremy Mincey came inside on a stunt, Saturday went to head butt him, but the defender slipped him and sacked Dan Orlovsky. I think Saturday was nervous that he may not be able to hold up against bull rushes like he used to, so he tried to blunt Mincey with his head rather than his hands. It’s something that a lot of undersized guys do.
On Saturday’s right side is Ryan Diem, who retired this offseason. I thought he had the best game of anyone on the line. He was adequate as a run blocker, and looked smooth in pass protection. What I especially liked about his pass protection was how little he moved. Like Saturday in the running game, Diem was very efficient with his foot work in the passing game. He kept a nice wide base that allowed him to change direction quickly. He also was able to sit down when he had to against a bull rush. I’m not sure if he was motivated by the fact that he knew it could be his last game, or if he played that well all season, but I thought it was a nice performance to go out on.
Opposite Diem is Mike Pollak. I saw Pollak play a lot in college and was a big fan of the pick when Indianapolis snagged him in the second round of the 2008 draft. For whatever reason, his skills have never quite clicked at the next level. Like I said in the intro: he isn’t awful, but he just doesn’t do quite enough to leave you impressed. He doesn’t look like a great athlete and seems to labor to change direction. This problem did get exposed at the second level against Jacksonville. Also, he plays a little too far out over his toes, which leaves him off-balance at times. Still, he has good hands, and perhaps the change of scenery in Carolina (where he signed as a free agent) will jumpstart his career.
Anthony Castonzo was the Colts first-round pick last year, and their left tackle by the end of the season. I thought he played pretty well. He could certainly be more physical in the running game, but I thought his pass protection was good, and at the end of the day that's the most important attribute at left tackle. His pass set doesn’t look particularly natural, and he’s a bit of a stomper, but he changes directions well and stays active. I'd like to see him develop a better punch as well, but it wasn’t terrible. I think the Colts have finally found an actual replacement for Tarik Glenn.
The last member of the Colts line is right tackle Jeff Linkenbach. Linkenbach had a rough final week of the season. I mentioned earlier how efficient Saturday and Diem were. Linkenbach was the exact opposite. He was all over the place, and seemed to lunge at every head fake and jab step a defender made. Linkenbach is still pretty young, and was probably thrown into the fire a little too quick this year. He does use his hands pretty well to keep distance during a pass rush, but his feet are so twitchy that it doesn’t end up helping him that much. He seems like a decent natural athlete (his feet weren’t moving slow, just too much), so he could improve, but he has a long way to go.
That does it for this week. Starting next week I want to add something at the end of each column. Maybe I could answer one or two questions every week, or draw up a blitz of the week. (I want to stay away from drawing up running plays, since that’s the bread and butter of the regular season column.) Maybe I'll add a funny quote from a former coach and explain what it was supposed to teach us. I’m open to suggestions. Leave your thoughts in the comments and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.