The biggest issue Denver Broncos’ coaches and fans should be worried about after the team’s first loss this season is not the fact that they lost, but rather that Chris Clark, Peyton Manning’s blind-side protector at the left tackle position and Ryan Clady‘s season-long replacement, was consistently beat all game.
Though Clark had a strong performance against DeMarcus Ware and the Dallas Cowboys in his first start of the season, his last two have left a lot of be desired. Signs began to appear against the winless Jacksonville Jaguars when Manning was under an unusual amount of pressure. But Clark’s weaknesses were clearly exposed in Week 7 as he allowed two sacks and four quarterback hits to Robert Mathis. That is more pressure from one player than Manning has seen from most teams.
As a result, Manning completed a season low 59 percent of his passes and turned the ball over twice. Quite simply, if Clark is not playing well, this offense will struggle to keep pace with a defensively-led team like the Kansas City Chiefs and make the playoffs, let alone win a Super Bowl.
Teams from here on out will definitely attack Clark with overload blitzes and isolate him against their best pass rusher. The Broncos must figure out ways to help Clark and ultimately better protect Manning, as he cannot absorb too many more big hits, and when he does, his performance clearly suffers. Whether that is from rotating linemen around to ensure Manning’s blind side is protected, or keeping backs and tight ends in to help the offensive linemen, something must improve.
The problem with these solutions is that they disrupt the Broncos well-oiled machine of an offense. Keeping in possible receivers in to block limits Manning’s ability to spread the field, and moving linemen around to more effectively protect Manning will likely hinder an already weak rushing attack.
Clark has limited starting experience and it will be very interesting to see how he bounces back from such a poor performance. If not, it seems likely that recently signed veteran Winston Justice will start in place of him. However, none of the Broncos’ linemen have any experience playing with him and he has very limited knowledge of the Broncos’ playbook.
Fortunately for the Broncos, they take on the Washington Redskins this upcoming week, who have had trouble stopping anyone’s offense this year, and have a bye week after that. This will provide the team an opportunity to address some of the line’s problems – something they must do quickly as they still must face the undefeated Chiefs twice.
Written by John Spina. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @jsspina24.