By Matthew Marczi
Perhaps nobody’s hands were more dirty following the loss to the New England Patriots last week than Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. Clark in particular had been having a very rough season up to this point that seemed to all but assure that this would be his last season in Pittsburgh.
One game doesn’t change that, but he sure played a lot better this week, and probably his best game of the season, with or without the interception.
This week, Clark spend nearly the entire game 20 yards off the ball as a deep safety, often the single high with Polamalu moving up and roaming around before the snap.
While E.J. Manuel is not the greatest challenge in the league at quarterback, the fact that he was 0-for-2 on passes beyond 20 yards—with one of them being intercepted—is a testament to his play. Manuel also went just 2-for-5 in the intermediate range.
Clark did not register much on the stats sheet; however, when the free safety has few tackles, that is generally a good sign for the defense. That is because this is what those types of tackles usually look like:
Nevertheless, it is important to have a safety capable of coming up and making these tackles when necessary. It also doesn’t hurt when your safety can play center fielder the way Ed Reed used to.
Off the snap, Clark wisely shaded to his right, where three receivers were running routes, and Polamalu was fading to the right. After reading the coverage and watching Manuel’s eyes, however, he broke back to his left and made the easy interception after Cortez Allen took out his receiver.
Late in the game, Dick LeBeau sent Clark in on a blitz to try to keep the Bills out of the end zone. After all, you can’t drop back 20 yards on the goal line. On first and goal, Clark blitzed, nearly bringing Manuel down, but buying enough time for the rest of the defense to pursue. Jason Worilds put a hit on him and the ball popped out for what at the time appeared to be a fumble.
Two plays later, he played the role of enforcer, knocking the receiver forward after a nine-yard reception on second and goal. It used to be a priority to make receivers think twice about coming across the middle of the field, but it’s harder to do in today’s NFL.