As we all know, the playoffs are a different season in-and-of-themselves when compared to the regular season. The intensity level shoots up about 1000 degrees, and every single play is micro-analyzed. But, for the Colts to have gotten to this point, what with all the injuries they sustained throughout the 2010 regular season, they needed some people who are not used to playing big roles to step up and be accountable.
During the Colts 4-0 march to the post-season, winning three division games along the way, it was players like the ones listed below that really made the difference between the Colts winning yet another AFC South banner or jockeying for draft position.
Some people were saying all year that he was playing great. I didn't see it until the game at Nashville. In that game, we saw better movement and penetration by the d-line, and much of that was a result of Moala playing up to his potential. Then, in the Jaguars game, he really started to find his groove. Prior to the Jaguars game, the Colts surrendered an appalling 141 rushing yards a game. From the Jags game at Lucas Oil forward, they've allowed 66 yards a game. Much of that is due to Moala finally 'getting it.' I also think it's because Fili plays better lining up beside Antonio Johnson, who is (in my mind) the best interior run defender the Colts have.
I cannot say enough good things about Tamme. He had 67 receptions for 631 yards and 4 TDs starting in just 10 games. Had Tamme played an entire 16-game season, he'd have had somewhere in the neighborhood of 112 catches for 1008 yards and 6 TDs! Not many tight ends in the history of professional football have had seasons like that. The only reasons Tamme didn't make the Pro Bowl this year were 1) The Pro Bowl is utterly dumb and only rewards 'name' players as opposed to 'good' ones, and 2) Marcedes Lewis of the Jaguars had 10 TDs.
When we think of people who truly 'stepped up' in 2010, the poster boy is Jacob Tamme.
During the off-season, we scratched our heads at a lot of moves made by the Polians. One off move we noted, but didn't write much about, was the team not picking up the option on Hagler. He was the starting SAM backer last season until he got hurt, and while Philip Wheeler filled in nicely for much of 2009, nothing he did showed that he was better than Hagler.
Then, as the injuries mounted and Wheeler's play continued to decline in 2010, the Colts brought back Tyjuan, and pretty much since then we've seen a dramatic improvement in linebacker play. In 13 games this year (Hagler has started in two of them), the man has 48 total tackles, 1 sack, 3 passes defended, an INT, and an all-so-critical special teams touchdown that won the game against the Jaguars three weeks ago. Compare this with Wheeler, who started in 6 games and generated 48 total tackles and defended one pass.
As I mentioned earlier, lots of move this past off-season made us question the judgment of Bill Polian. Trading for Justin Tryon was not one of them. This was a very solid move, and since Jerraud Powers was lost for the season with a broken arm, Tryon has very much stepped up to take his place as the team's best cover corner. Tryon has 44 tackles and has defended 7 passes. More importantly, I don't see quarterbacks 'picking' on him the way they did Tim Jennings (who, I might add, is having a good season for the Bears, and is now their starting corner).
This guy has been labeled a 'bust,' and rightly so. For the second time in his career, Pollak was benched for a no-name, undrafted rookie at the right guard spot. However, unlike last year, the guy who replaced him (Jeff Linkenbach) didn't do any better. So, Pollak got his job back, and perhaps that second benching opened his eyes a bit. Since then, the Colts have gone from averaging 115 yards rushing a game. Prior to his benching, they were averaging 83 a game.
Now, Mike Pollak was not the sole reason the Colts o-line stuck for much of 2010, but he was, in many ways, the post boy for Polian's ineptness at drafting quality linemen. Pollak was a second round pick, and he was getting outplayed by undrafted rookie nobodys. But, despite all the justified grief this dude took, he seems to have figured things out. These past three games, he has played especially well and deserves some praise for turning it on when the team needed it.
I've got a big soft spot in my heart for this kid. When Joseph Addai and Mike Hart went down, it wasn't Donald Brown (the team's 1st round pick in 2009) who consistently stepped up and produced from the running back position. It was Javarris James. Sure, 'Baby J' only averaged 2.4 a carry this year, but that stat is misleading.
When this team needed a tough yard, 'Baby J' got it.
Javarris was tied with the excellent LeGarrette Blount from the Buccaneers for second among all rookie runningbacks with six TDs this year. Only Chargers back Ryan Matthew had more with 7, and Matthews (unlike Baby J) is a first rounder and was the starter from Week One.
It's also worth noting that, with many of these players listed, they have also excelled at special teams. I know a lot of people have given special teams coach Ray Rychleski some grief around here, but I am not one of them. Russ Purnell deserved all the grief in the world when he ran Indy's special teams because, well, he sucked. Rychleski, who has lost key special teams players like Jamie Silva and Melvin Bullitt, has been making this all work with spare parts.
Despite these issues, when players like Baby J, Tamme, and Justin Tryon has been asked to step in and play special teams, they've done well. And as we all know, players stepping up on special teams often is the difference between winning and losing.
If you have other players in mind who you think have stepped up in recent weeks, let us know in the comments.