INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts expect quarterback Kerry Collins to take significant steps forward with the offense Sunday against Cleveland.
That won't happen if he's on his back all day.
The Colts were an offensive juggernaut with Peyton Manning at the controls, but he's out indefinitely after neck surgery. In their first game with Collins, the line gave up three sacks against Houston, and Collins fumbled three times, losing two. Indy was held to 236 yards and nearly shut out, scoring late in a 34-7 loss last Sunday.
Veteran linemen Jeff Saturday and Ryan Diem summoned new starters Jeff Linkenbach, Joe Reitz and Anthony Castonzo to discuss what happened. The Colts' line for years took great pride in its role in Manning's streak of consecutive starts, which ended at 227 games. So letting Collins get knocked around didn't go over well with the veterans, who expect improvement in the home opener.
"They let everybody know that that's not how the Colts play," Castonzo, a rookie left tackle, said. "That's not how we play, and we need to step up and get the job done this upcoming week."
The line has gone through several changes. In addition to having three new starters, Ryan Diem has moved from right tackle to right guard. Linkenbach acknowledged that the newness of the lineup and the loud environment in Houston affected the Colts.
"At the end of the day, you have to do your job and work together as one, regardless of how long or how little you've worked together," he said.
Because the Colts were down 34-0 at halftime, they nearly abandoned the running game. That allowed the Texans to hone in on Collins. Indianapolis threw 31 passes and ran only 16 times.
"You're down 34 points in the first half, and we did it to ourselves," Saturday said. "So we need to try to stay in phase, and make sure we're staying ahead of the chains. We need to give our playmakers chances to make plays."
The playmakers didn't get to do much. Reggie Wayne caught seven passes for 106 yards, but Austin Collie, one of the league's most explosive players when healthy last season, went without a catch. Joseph Addai, long a central figure in the Colts attack, had just 10 touches. Tight end Dallas Clark had just four catches for 39 yards.
The Colts were able to move the ball at the end of the game, with Collins finding Wayne for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 9:17 left. The Colts feel that gave them something to build on.
"We need to come out and establish what we ended the game with, being able to move the ball," Saturday said. "Protect the quarterback, and make sure he gets time to put the ball in the air and go from there."
Linkenbach doesn't expect another line meeting next week.
"Anytime there's sacks and there's turnovers and poor blocking in general, you get together as a group," Linkenbach said. "We need to play better, period. No excuses. We need to go out and play better."
Cleveland has a formidable defensive line. Rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor had six tackles in Cleveland's opening loss to Cincinnati.
"Phil Taylor on the inside is a very, very capable guy," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "He's big, strong and can rush the passer."
On the end, rookie Jabaal Sheard has gained the attention of the Colts' coaching staff.
"Sheard is going to give you a very good pass rush on the outside with some length and some power," Caldwell said.
The Colts say they are ready for the challenge.
"For us, the biggest thing was forgetting about the past and focusing ahead on Cleveland and knowing that we can play better and knowing that that's our job to go out and perform and do that," Reitz said.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cliffbruntap