Here’s a number you’ve probably not heard mentioned leading up to today’s game against the Colts: 158.
That’s the number of times the Colts targeted tight end Dallas Clark in 2009.
To put that number in perspective, you’ll recall that the Broncos were often criticized last year for throwing to Brandon Marshall almost exclusively—154 times. Although Peyton Manning attempted 30 more passes than Kyle Orton last year, the number of passes thrown in the direction of Dallas Clark was immense.
Manning and Clark have already decided to attend the afterglow party as well in 2010. Clark has been targeted 20 times in 2 games, putting him on pace for a similar number of targets as last year.
If you haven’t heard, Peyton Manning likes Dallas Clark. He likes him quite a lot.
Why? There are a few factors. First, the Colts play a ton of their 113 (1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WR) package, with the added wrinkle of the no-huddle offense. This usually forces the defense into nickel coverage without the ability for defensive substitutions. Clark immediately creates match-up problems for an extra nickel back. If the defense stays in its base defense, Clark works over the linebackers with this quickness.
A second problem magnifies the first. This will surprise you, but Clark very often gets a free release off the line of scrimmage so that he has no problem running one of his two favorite patterns—the quick out to the flat and the quick slant over the middle. The more he’s allowed to get into his route unimpeded, the more comfortable Peyton Manning feels.
Last year, as you might expect, the Broncos played a fair amount of nickel-zone coverage against the Colts, with Wesley Woodyard in as a linebacker. They didn’t blitz much. And unfortunately, they let Clark have a free release on almost every one of his routes. Woodyard took the brunt end on two Clark touchdowns. In the 2nd half, Denver played more nickel-man coverage, which seemed to work better. It didn’t hurt that Elvis Dumervil was shifting constantly.
Your guess is as good as mine as to what the Broncos will do today against the Colts, especially with their injuries in the secondary and without Dumervil. One thing that would be nice to see, however, is for Denver to take advantage of the 5 yards in which the they can put their hands on Clark. Don’t give Clark the luxury of developing his timing with Manning, even if it costs a penalty or two.
Beat Clark up and jam him at the line of scrimmage. Take his route tree to the ground.
PREGAME MOTIVATIONAL LIMERICK
Lay Your Hands on Clark
Pound Dallas Clark to the ground,
until yellow flags come unbound.
Crack him in his grill.
Never get your fill.
Hear that roaring Mile High sound!