Any hopes that the Oakland Raiders have of beating Denver in Week 3 come down to their ability to get to Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Defensive end Lamarr Houston could be the key piece to that that puzzle.
One of only two starters remaining from last season and the only one healthy enough to play Monday night at Mile High Stadium, Houston will be facing Denver left tackle Chris Clark. In one of the game’s key matchups.
Clark was thrust into the Broncos lineup earlier this week when Ryan Clady was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury. An undrafted player who spent two years on Minnesota’s practice squad before signing with Denver in 2010, the 6’5”, 305-pound Clark will be making just his seventh career start against an Oakland team that leads the NFL in sacks.
Houston has only one sack but he’s clearly been the Raiders most effective pass-rusher. According to ProFootballFocus.com, his status holds up across the league as well.
Here’s what PFF recently wrote about Houston:
Through two weeks, Houston is grading at +6.0 overall (seventh among 4-3 DEs) with a pass rush grade of +4.1. His 17.8 Pass Rush Productivity ranks second at the position behind only Robert Quinn of the Rams.
Pretty solid stuff considering Houston is in his first season playing almost exclusively at right defensive end after spending his first three years on the left side. He’s also standing up as a pass-rusher far more than he ever did, and it’s paid off nicely so far.
His battle with Clark is key to whatever hopes the Raiders have of winning.
So far in the two games this season Houston has eight tackles, one sack and a pair of quarterback hurries. Those numbers only tell part of the story, however. Teammate Christo Bilukidi recorded his first career sack last week against Jacksonville partially because Houston chased Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne into his arms.
Against Clark, Houston needs to do that and more.
Manning’s ability to get the ball out quickly is one of the many things that set him apart from the average quarterbacks in the NFL, so it’s imperative the Raiders get to him early or at least disrupt his throwing pattern.
Because it’s a risk to blitz a quarterback like Manning, the Raiders will have to pick and choose their spots. Most of the rush, then, is going to have to come from the front four.
When he’s standing up, Houston likes to line up about one to two yards outside of the left tackle. He’s been most effective when attacking the outside shoulder of the tackle because his speed allows him to get a quick jump, making it easier to gain leverage before peeling off and going after the quarterback.
Houston hasn’t been quite as effective with his inside moves and occasionally has trouble disengaging from blockers. Still, against a relatively inexperience lineman like Clark, Houston needs to switch his attack up and not let the Broncos left tackle get comfortable.
The big thing for Houston is to be disciplined in his rush. Twice last week against Jacksonville, the Raiders defensive end missed what should have been easy sacks when he overran the quarterback.
That will be key because Denver will probably try a trick play or two, perhaps a reverse or end-around, in hopes of catching Houston going the wrong way.
Because Houston has had trouble getting away from double-teams, Denver may be tempted to use a tight end or running back on Clark’s side. If that happens, look for the Raiders to stunt Houston inside like they did three times against the Jaguars including once when he overran the quarterback and missed the sack.
Houston will also line up with his hands on the ground from time to time, mostly on first downs. Jacksonville left tackle Eugene Monroe held Houston off pretty well in those situations but struggled whenever Houston stood up.
Even if Houston wins his one-on-one battles with Clark, there is no guarantee that he can get to Manning in time. However, if the Raiders can bring the heat and bring it consistently, anything is possible.