Raiders-Broncos matchup No. 3: Houston vs. Clark

Allen: There's a formula to beating the Broncos

Raiders-Broncos matchup No. 3: Houston vs. Clark
September 21, 2013, 7:15 am
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Lamarr Houston is out to a good start with 16 quarterback pressures in 69 pass rushes. (AP)

Editor's Note: This is the first part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Broncos matchups to watch Monday, 5:40 p.m., at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Raiders RDE Lamarr Houston vs. Broncos LT Chris Clark

Tale of the tape:

Houston (99): 6-foot-3, 280 pounds, fourth season, Texas
Clark (75): 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, fifth season, Southern Mississippi

Lamarr Houston is the NFL’s most efficient 4-3 edge rusher. The Raiders defensive end has owned the right side, totaling 16 quarterback pressures in 69 pass rushes.

That stat comes via Pro Football Focus, and it’s shocking that it didn’t highlight Jared Allen or DeMarcus Ware or Julius Peppers. All this from a defensive end supposedly outside that class looking in.

Houston is hell-bent on joining them, especially in a contract year. He’ll have a chance to earn more street cred on Monday Night against the Broncos. It should be difficult against Peyton Manning, who gets the ball out as fast as anyone.

He should have a significant advantage over left tackle Chris Clark, a fifth year veteran with 42 games played and six starts. Clark steps in for Ryan Clady, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday with a Lisfranc (foot) injury.

That’s a huge loss for Denver. Clady was the undisputed leader of the offensive line. He was rock solid on the left side and a franchise cornerstone after signing a contract worth up to $57.5 million. While Monday night might be easier, Houston actually feels for Clady, a regular workout partner this offseason.

It's hard to dispute that going against Clark should increase success. Houston won’t admit to smelling blood in the water.

“Clark is an athletic guy with good feet,” Houston said. “He can keep up with anyone, big and strong or small and fast. I just have to watch some more tape on him and really understand how he likes to play.”

The Raiders are starting to understand how good Houston can be. He worked tirelessly this offseason to get faster while maintaining strength, trying to improve on 2012’s lackluster four-sack season. The 26-year old dropped to a lean 280 pounds, and made technical improvements to play smarter on a defense loaded with new faces.

“I think he’s coming into his own as a veteran, but he’s still relatively young,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “There’s a lot of growth and a lot of improvement that he can make. I think with all these guys, the more opportunities they have, the more reps they get, the more plays they play, the more they’re able to see, the better they’re going to get. It’s just a matter of how hard are they going to work. And Lamarr’s worked extremely hard at it.”

[RELATED: Lamarr Houston career stats]

The Raiders are actively trying to extend Houston’s contract. They’ve been negotiating for some time, hoping to work out a deal before he hits the open market. The Raiders were financially constrained for giving him a high-priced rush mate. Houston’s potential gave the team comfort adding complimentary piece Jason Hunter.

“We thought last year Lamarr was probably our best defensive player,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “So we felt good that Lamarr could provide some kind of pass rush. Now will he be that dominant Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, one of those kinds of guys, we didn’t have that in mind but we thought he could be a disruptive force for our defense. We just wanted to fill in some good pieces around and just complement the defense to where we can execute some things. Now, if I had a chance to get a guaranteed 15-sack guy, yeah, whether I had the resources to get that done or not, probably not. But we felt good about Lamarr.”

McKenzie is happy with what he’s seen in two games. Houston expects much more. He’s been pleased with his own ability to impact the quarterback, but he’d like to turn mere pressures into big plays.

“There are a lot of detail things I need to improve that will cut the time it takes to get to the quarterback,” Houston said. “That will be the difference between flushing the pocket and making a sack. It’s been a decent start, but I can be much better.”