There's a lot of talk this week about Michael Vick's ability to handle the blitz - both locally and nationally.
And rightfully so. The last memory everyone has of Vick is him looking as uncomfortable as ever in the Eagles' 24-14 loss to the Vikings in Week 16. The week before, the Giants confused Vick with their blitz for three quarters.
But one thing worth noting is that while both Minnesota and New York blitzed Vick often, they did so in different ways. And when you look back at the season, the whole issue of Vick dealing with opposing blitzes is really nothing new.
Guess which opponent blitzed Vick more than any other? It was the Jaguars - way back in Week 3. Jacksonville blitzed him on over 62 percent of his dropbacks, and Vick burned the Jags, completing 12 of 19 passes for 230 yards and a pair of touchdowns on those plays.
Guess which team blitzed Vick most effectively? It was probably the Cowboys in the first meeting. Dallas blitzed Vick on 47 percent of his dropbacks, and he managed to complete 6 of 11 passes for just 16 yards.
But the Giants game in Week 15 and the Vikings game in Week 16 are freshest in our minds so let's examine how they attacked Vick.
New York sent blitzers after him on 22 of 45 dropbacks (48.9 percent). But what's important is how many defenders they sent after Vick:
Four - 2
Five - 8
Six - 6
Seven - 3
Eight - 3
The four-men blitzes were obviously zone blitzes. Overall, they dropped linemen into coverage six times.
But what was different about the way the Giants blitzed was that they often sent six, seven or even eight defenders. They sent six or more on 12 of 22 blitzes. And for much of the game, Vick and the Eagles' offense didn't have an answer.
Through three quarters, Vick had been blitzed 14 times. On those plays, he was 4-for-10 for 17 yards and an interception. Vick was also sacked three times on those blitzes and carried once for 1 yard on what was essentially another sack. Through three quarers, the Eagles' longest play against the blitz went for 8 yards.
But as we know, the fourth quarter was a different story. On the Giants' final nine blitzes, Vick was 3-for-6 for 88 yards and three touchdowns. Maybe more importantly, he carried three times for 90 yards. In the fourth, the Eagles had four plays of 20 yards or more against the blitz.
So what's the point? Blitzing Vick is not as simple a solution for stopping the Eagles' offense as it might sound like. When defenses blitz six or more guys, they had better get to him in a hurry, and their guys in coverage better be able to run with the Eagles' receivers. Even if the Eagles only send DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin into pass routes, they have the ability to hit on big, game-changing plays. And if Vick can somehow find a running lane, we know he can create huge plays with his legs.
That's where the Vikings' gameplan comes in. They blitzed 31 times, but on 29 of those, they sent just five defenders at Vick. On the other two plays, they sent six. The Vikings also dropped linemen into coverage effectively and frequently, doing so on 19 of 31 blitzes. Only rushing five defenders allowed them more options in terms of coverage, which in turn, flustered Vick and the Eagles.
Eagles fans will remember the name Antoine Winfield for a long time. The Vikings cornerback blitzed time and again in Week 16. He killed the Birds, specifically in the first half when he forced a Vick fumble and returned it for a touchdown.
By my unofficial count, Minnesota sent a defensive back off the right or left edge 20 times. Vick was 5-for-12 for 73 yards and an interception on those plays (27.43 QB rating). He was also sacked four times and carried twice for gains of 8 yards and 6 yards. Penalties were called on two other plays.
The Giants blitzed their defensive backs also. New York sent a DB off the edge 13 times. Vick was 4-for-8 for 28 yards, a touchdown and an interception on those plays (58.33 QB rating). He was sacked twice.
On 11 of the 33 plays where the Vikings and Giants blitzed a DB, Vick didn't even attempt a pass. He was either sacked or took off.
But for those of you looking for a bright side, there actually is one. Against the Giants, Vick ran for gains of 35 and 33 yards on those DB blitzes. And against Minnesota, he converted three plays of 20 yards or more (two completions and a pass interference) when DBs rushed off the edge.
In other words, the potential is there for the Eagles to hit on big plays against extra pressure, as I mentioned above. When Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers dials up those blitzes on Sunday, he will do so knowing that there's a huge risk involved.
Marty Mornhinweg has said all season that the Eagles welcome the blitz. On Sunday, they'll need to take that attitude and prove why it's the right one. Because if the Birds can't hit on big plays against the blitz, they won't be making the trip to Chicago in the divisional round.