Clark's 14 Catches Carry Colts to 20-17 Victory
INDIANAPOLIS – No matter the scheme, no matter the defender – Colts tight end Dallas Clark is a tough cover for opposing teams, and his quarterback knows it.
That is why Peyton Manning turned to one of his favorite targets early and often against the Houston Texans in the Colts' 20-17 victory on Sunday.
Indianapolis opened the game at a breakneck pace, utilizing an up-tempo, no-huddle offense that was quick even for their standards. The pass-happy offense converted four passes and picked up two first downs in the first minute of Sunday's game.
On the first play from scrimmage, Manning hit Clark for a three-yard gain on a screen pass. The next play, Manning went back to Clark for 11 yards over the middle. Two plays later, another pass to Clark, this time for 10 yards.
Thus was the pace the Colts operated at on Sunday.
"It was almost our two-minute operation in terms of the tempo of the game, and that was by design," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "We wanted to press the issue and be as aggressive as we possibly could to set the pace."
By the time the first quarter ended, Clark had eight catches for 62 yards and the Colts were up 10-0.
By the time the game was over, the tight end had totaled a career-high 14 catches for 114 yards, tying Marvin Harrison's franchise-record for most receptions in a game.
"That's just how it happens sometimes," Caldwell said. "Dallas had a heck of a day…he has been playing well all year, and he had some big catches against tough coverage today."
The Colts' win Sunday gives them an NFL-best 8-0 record, and they became the fourth NFL team ever to win 17 consecutive regular-season games.
"It was a huge win," Manning said. "We had a great effort hanging in there. Everything wasn't perfect, but we did a great job fighting, and we came away with a big win."
The win featured plenty of No. 44, who lined up just about everywhere on Sunday. But with the exception of a few plays, the Texans defended Clark with a lone linebacker.
"It was kind of one of those things where we were trying to take advantage of what is given to us," Clark said. "Even with (me) getting those early catches, they still didn't adjust or change what they were doing, so we were just going to try and keep attacking."
Although the Texans switched back and forth between man and zone defense, Manning said they stayed in a nickel set the majority of the game.
To counter Houston's personnel, Manning said the Colts lined up rookie wide receiver Austin Collie in the slot, which freed up Clark and positioned him against a mismatched linebacker.
"That's the match-up that we thought was favorable for us," Caldwell said. "When we have an opportunity to get (Clark) on a linebacker, he fairs pretty well. Teams often try and cover him with a nickel back, so when it is a bigger guy (against Clark), we think we might have an opportunity to get him the ball a little more."
Clark routinely took advantage, finding holes in the coverage and picking up crucial first downs when his team needed him most.
"No matter who is guarding him, we think he's tough to cover," said Manning, who had an impressive game of his own, completing 34 of 50 passes for 318 yards one touchdown and one interception. It was Manning's seventh 300-yard game in eight games this season.
While the offense paced the Colts to victory, they were not mistake-free on Sunday. Clark said the Colts need to do a better job of executing and finishing drives.
"It would have been a lot better if (our drives resulted in) some touchdowns instead of field goals, but those are some things we need to continue working on," Clark said.
With the offense moving so quickly, Clark said he thinks the Colts were able to wear down their AFC South rivals and keep them guessing throughout the game.
But the up-tempo game also had some adverse affects on the win, which Clark thinks he'll be feeling early next week.
When asked how he felt about his big game against the Texans, Clark replied, "Sore."
"That's the give and take of catching a lot of balls, you have to get hit," he said. "The win definitely makes it feel a lot better. We were able to get the victory, so that always helps."
• Colts running back Joseph Addai scored both of his team's touchdowns Sunday. The first came on a seven-yard shovel pass from Manning in the first quarter, and the second was a two-yard rush into the end zone in the fourth. For the game, Addai rushed 14 times for 63 yards and also caught five passes for 49. "I thought Joe did a great job as a receiver and running the ball when we called his number," Manning said. It was the fourth time in Addai's career he had a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game.
• Another week, another sack for Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. The three-time All-Pro selection sacked Texans quarterback Matt Schaub on Houston's first offensive play of the game and picked up an additional half-sack in the second quarter. The pass rusher extended his streak of consecutive games with a sack to nine, one short of the NFL record held by former Denver Broncos linebacker Simon Fletcher (1992-93) and Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware (2007-08). Freeney tied teammate Robert Mathis' NFL record for having a sack in the first eight games of a season.
• Kicker Matt Stover continued his perfection as a Colt on Sunday, knocking down both his field-goal attempts (22, 37) and converting two extra points. The 20-year veteran has made all six of his field-goal attempts in three games with the team.
• With injuries to the secondary, the Colts started two rookies at cornerback against the Texans. Third-round pick Jerraud Powers finished with 10 tackles and his first career interception, while undrafted free agent Jacob Lacey, who split time lined up across Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson, finished with nine tackles. After the game, Caldwell said the injuries the team suffered last week are not an issue. "We expect our defense to go out and play and play well, regardless of who lines up. (Powers and Lacey) have played a lot of football for us now."