Manning, Caldwell Say Defenses May Play Colts Differently With Dallas Clark Out
INDIANAPOLIS – Without question, things will be different.
Peyton Manning said he knows this. The Colts 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback said this week there's no doubt the offense will be different from now until the end of the season.
The absence of Dallas Clark ensures it will be that way.
But what Manning, a four-time Associated Press Most Valuable Player, and Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said what isn't known – not by observers, and not even by those within the team – is just how the Indianapolis offense will be different.
For that, Manning said, only time will tell.
"It's going to be interesting because there is definitely some unknown there," Manning said this week as the Colts (4-2) prepared to play the Houston Texans (4-2) in an AFC South game at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Monday at 8:30 p.m.
The unknown, Manning and Caldwell said, stems from this:
In the past four seasons, essentially since Clark missed four games late in the regular season before returning and leading the NFL in receiving yards to help the Colts win Super Bowl XLI, teams have altered how they defend the eight-year veteran.
Clark has missed just two games since that stretch.
Much of the Colts' offense is based on running plays that give the offense the best chance for success against whatever defense is called. Because Clark has been so durable in recent seasons, Caldwell said it is difficult to project how defenses will play the Colts.
Hence, it is difficult to know how the Colts' offense will look.
Even for the Colts.
"Some of it is going to be a bit of an unknown," Caldwell said.
Clark, a first-round selection from Iowa in 2003, improved steadily during his first several seasons, but never had more than 500 yards receiving until 2007, the year after the Colts' run to the Super Bowl. Since then, he became an increasingly integral part of the offense, catching 58 passes for 616 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2007, 77 passes for 848 yards and six touchdowns in 2008 and 100 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
He led all tight ends in receptions this season with 37 and had three touchdowns.
"He certainly created some opunities for us," Caldwell said. "Anytime you see a guy in his position catch 100 balls, obviously he is an integral part of what we do and always has been. He's been able to certainly force teams to adjust to what they want to do from a defensive standpoint in terms of their personnel. So that's going to remain to be seen in terms of what occurs.
"Oftentimes in our scheme we have answers according to what they do against us, and without him in there, we are going to have to adjust on the run."
Manning said Clark's loss will be felt beyond the field. Clark is respected in the Colts' locker room not only for his in-game performance, but for his reliable approach during the season and in the off-season.
"It's one of the worst parts about football, how much he loves it, how many times he's played through injuries," Manning said. "Four years ago, a couple of doctors told him he had an ACL (injury), he rehabs and comes back for the playoffs and has a great playoff run, and we win a championship. When you know a lot about the player and how many injuries he has played through, I know how hard it is for him.
"He's still going to be a part of it and be around, because you know how much he cares, you do feel for him. It's probably one of the worst parts of football."
Caldwell this week said third-year veteran Jacob Tamme, a fourth-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft from Kentucky, likely will play a key role in Clark's absence. Brody Eldridge, a rookie from Oklahoma, has started five of six games at the tight end/H-back position, catching three passes for 23 yards.
Tamme, one of the Colts' top special teams players, has not caught a pass this season, but Caldwell said he has the skills and athleticism to be productive.
"We do anticipate Jacob is going to be able to get in and give us a chance to do some of the things we've done previously, and maybe we have to adjust a little bit to his strengths as well," Caldwell said. "There is a little adjustment period there. Losing Dallas is a bit of a blow to us in that regard.
"It just creates some unknowns."
Said Manning, "We'll have some groupings in there that we've never had before because Dallas was a guy that never left the field. There will definitely be some new people in there, whether it's Jacob Tamme, Brody Eldridge more, more receiver groups, so I think it does give us some options.
"Dallas is a guy that you just couldn't take off the field, and now we're going to have to mix it up a little bit more. There will be some wait-and-see approach. Believe it or not, I'm sure most defenses will say, 'We're happy about it,' but I think it does have to make them think a little about what they are going to do."
What that means specifically Manning said he doesn't yet know, and won't know until the Colts start playing games without Clark. That starts Monday, and Manning said while it's not something the Colts wanted, it is something that absolutely will be a change from recent seasons.
"The only reason I say it's going to be a little bit different, I think, because you've really seen a change in how teams defend Dallas now," Manning said. "I think he's established himself since that time (2006) as such a threat in the slot, at tight end, in the backfield, maybe even more versatile. You've seen these past four years using nickel defense, using dime defense, using that double-team with the defensive end and (line)backer.
"You just didn't see much of that back then. Now, I think it's going to be a real question is whether they continue to do some of those things, or do they totally change what they do. I think Dallas has been so awesome during those years and has gotten to be more of a factor that he made the defense think a lot more.
"It'll be interesting to see how they react."