Key Matchup: Dallas Clark vs. Troy Polamalu

Greg Talmage profiles and breaks down one of the potentially great matchups of this weekend's game. The last time these teams met, Dallas Clark was minimalized. Will that happen again? Or will Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore have a surprise in store for the Steelers?

Colts tight end Dallas Clark only had 2 catches for 19 yards in the Steelers/Colts contest in November, while Steelers safety Troy Polamalu had 4 tackles and an interception. The key for Indianapolis in this weekend's game will be to force Polamalu to focus solely on Clark. This keeps him away from the line of scrimmage and makes him less of a force in the Steelers 3rd-ranked run defense. It also means the Colts O-line will not have the extra pressure of dealing with the blitzing strong safety.

One thing to watch for will be how Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore and Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau use TE Dallas Clark and SS Troy Polamalu, respectively, in their game of chess against one another.

When running the 2-Tight End look, the Colts will move Clark from his normal TE spot into the slot from time to time. Expect to see this on several instances Sunday as the Colts try to bait Pittsburgh into showing their hand in how they plan to use Polamalu. If Clark is successful in drawing Polamalu away from the line of scrimmage, it will be a positive for the offense and should open more lanes for Edgerrin James. Furthermore, if Polamalu is covering Clark that means he is not blitzing.

Clark's excellent combination of size and speed combined with his solid route running allow him to gain separation in man-to-man coverage against most linebackers and/or safeties. The Steelers will drop one of their safeties into the box to support the run and use him as an extra blitzer on nearly every down. When Polamalu is in the box, he'll match up against Clark in zone coverage, working in the flats where Clark will run his quick out routes.

However, when free safety Chris Hope, is placed into the box and Polamalu assigned in the deep middle, it's a signal for Clark to run his seam route, because Polamalu is not at his best in deep coverage. This is something that can be exploited to Indianapolis' advantage.

Polamalu is frequently used as a blitzer, so it will be key for him to get to Peyton Manning quickly and keep Clark guessing as to what he'll do on each play. If Polamalu blitzes successfully, Clark will become a non-factor in the passing game. But Manning is one of the best at figuring out the blitz, and if he sees it coming, he will hit Clark on a hot read for nice gains. So the pressure must be instant. You cannot give Manning even an extra split-second.

These guys are two pawns whose movements by their coaches will tell us a lot on Sunday.

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