Note: Each Monday we take a look at a player the Broncos used in a new, creative, or interesting way in the previous day’s game. This week we’re getting a second plate of Brian Dawkins and Mario Haggan.
The Broncos knew if they had any chance to win yesterday’s game, they needed to limit Dallas Clark’s opportunities. In their previous meeting, Clark had chewed up Denver’s nickel coverage and linebacker Wesley Woodyard for two touchdowns. And with Pierre Garcon out of the lineup, they figured Clark would be as popular as ever.
Would the Broncos play man coverage on Clark? Would they put Champ Bailey on him? Would they risk another linebacker fiasco like they had in the previous meeting?
The answer wasn’t long in coming. On the third play from scrimmage, Dallas Clark found himself looking across from Mario Haggan, who was lined up to his outside shoulder. I’m quite sure he was licking his chops. He’d run a quick inside slant route and make quick work of a slower linebacker—as he always did. Separating from linebackers was his specialty.
This time, however, moments before the snap, a wolverine approached and lined up across from his inside shoulder. Now Clark was looking at a 260-lb. linebacker and a 210-lb.safety as his trick-or-treaters.
Happy Halloween, Dallas Clark.
At first, Clark chose to try to split the two defenders, but they stood him up cold. Then he attempted to spin to the inside. He was—legally and immediately—pushed to the ground as if he was no larger than a 3rd-down scat back.
The Broncos didn’t handle Clark this way on every play, but on 3rd-and-long, and on critical passing downs, Clark faced a heavy dose of Haggan and Dawkins. At the end of the game, Clark only had 5 catches and 44 yards. From what I could tell, none of them came when he was defended this way. Randy Moss may be able to defeat the double team, but Dallas Clark can’t.
Haggan would end up with 7 tackles (leading the team), while Dawkins tallied 3 tackles and an assist. Yet, it was the creative way in which they were used to negate Dallas Clark that made them stand out yesterday. You’d better believe that this game footage will be sucked up by other coaches in the NFL like Daryl Gardener sucks up pancakes at IHOP. Wink Martindale’s defensive scheme was that good.
What about Austin Collie? Big deal that the Broncos took away Clark. Austin Collie had 12 receptions for 171 yards. He owned Denver.
While there is a grain of truth to that statement, I still think the game plan against Clark was excellent. One of those plays to Collie went for 48 yards after a mental breakdown. And it took Peyton Manning until the middle of the 3rd quarter to begin to find Collie in man coverage. This doesn’t mean that the Broncos had a poor game plan. Quite the contrary. The plan was to neutralize Clark and put Champ Bailey on Reggie Wayne. They decided to take their chances in man coverage against Collie and a set of no-name receivers. And it worked. They didn’t let Clark or Reggie Wayne (who was man covered most of the day by Champ Bailey) beat them. If the Broncos had taken advantage of their opportunities in the red zone, converted on 3rd down, and not turned the ball over, by the time Manning started doing some damage, the Broncos would have had the lead. The complexion of the game would have been entirely different.
Despite the game’s result, you have to like what you saw out of Haggan and Dawkins. But more importantly, yesterday we saw that Wink Martindale is every bit the defensive coordinator that we’d hoped he’d be. He resisted the urge to blitz. He resisted the urge to play conventionally. He trusted his players in man coverage, which is hard for a lot of coordinators to do in today’s game.
And he neutralized the Colts’ best receiver.
A tip of the cap to Wink Martindale. He’s yet another reason to believe in this Broncos team, even at 1-2.