Mike Check: Trying to defend Vick
Here's a detailed look at Michael Vick's play last week and on the season. What's the right way to defend him? And what will the Giants try on Sunday?
Mike Check: Trying to defend Vick
Since I'm a little late with the Mike Check feature this week, I'm going to focus more on his performance overall and spin it forward to Sunday night's matchup with the Giants.
But I don't want to completely ignore the Monday night game.
Let's start off with pass distribution. Here's how it broke down last week:
The Eagles had three drops, and Vick threw one ball away, so really Vick's line could have looked more like 20-for-23 instead of 20-for-28. Of the eight overall incompletions, one had a chance to be intercepted, but as you can see, Vick was extremely accurate.
His favorite target was McCoy, followed by Maclin and Avant. Jackson, who had the 88-yard bomb on the first play from scrimmage, was targeted only two times the rest of the game. The Avant line stands out. Vick completed all five throws to Avant for 76 yards.
On the season, Jackson has been Vick's favorite target. He's thrown in his direction 34 times; Maclin's second at 29; McCoy third at 24; Avant fourth at 21; and Celek fifth at 20.
Ready for this stat? Vick has targeted Jackson seven times on throws that traveled more than 25 yards from the line of scrimmage. He's completed six of those for 331 yards. As Dr. Dre and Nate Dogg would say: Explosive.
Vick continues to do a good job of spreading the ball around. Seven different players had a catch, and four different players had a reception that gained at least 20 yards (Jackson, Maclin, Avant, McCoy).
Harrison had his first catch of the season, lining up out wide and making a 15-yard grab on an excellent throw in a tight window.
THE BLITZ, PRESSURE, SHOTGUN, ETC.
Sometimes, it's tough to define the blitz for our purposes. For Sunday's game, I counted a blitz as any time the Redskins rushed more than four players. Keep in mind that they tried to disguise their looks, using different defensive fronts and sending different players. But they only rushed more than four on three occasions. Vick went 3-for-3 for 64 yards on those plays.
On the season, he's 32-for-52 (61.5%) for 477 yards against the blitz, and that doesn't take into account the plays he's made with his legs against the blitz.
In the last two games, the Redskins and Colts sent more than four rushers after Vick only nine times. It looks like defenses are going to stay away from blitzing him for the most part, fearing that Vick will burn them for big plays.
He was sacked just once as the offensive line delivered one of its best performances of the season.
I heard Brian Billick say on NFL Network yesterday that the way he would attack Vick would be to keep him in the pocket. Maybe that would have worked against the Falcons version of Vick, but Vick 2.0 has been outstanding in the pocket.
On Sunday, he was 18-for-22 for 315 yards on throws inside the pocket. On the season, he's 78-for-121 for 1,098 yards in the pocket. That's a completion percentage of 64.5.
Outside of the pocket, Vick was 2-for-6 for 18 yards against the Redskins.
Vick was equally impressive in the shotgun and under center. From the 'gun, he completed 14 of 20 attempts for 215 yards. Under center, he completed 6 of 8 for 118.
On the season, Vick's been in the shotgun about two-thirds of the time (on passing downs).
For the first time in three weeks, play-action was a weapon for the Eagles. Vick was 4-for-5 for 108 yards on play-action, including the 88-yard hit to Jackson on the first play.
The previous two games combined, the Eagles totaled just 57 yards on play-action throws.
THIRD DOWN, RED ZONE
As a team, the Eagles were 8-for-13 on third downs. On 10 of those plays, Vick dropped back to pass, and on six of them, the Eagles picked up a first down.
He was 6-for-8 for 46 yards on third down. Vick also converted two third downs with his legs - one on a 21-yard run and another on a 13-yard run.
On third down this season, Vick is 27-for-42 for 443 yards, averaging 10.55 yards per attempt. His favorite third-down target has been Jackson. Vick's 8-for-12 for 198 yards to Jackson on third down. Maclin and Avant have each been targeted eight times, and Celek six.
The Eagles converted all four red-zone trips into touchdowns. Vick was 4-for-6 for 27 yards inside the Redskins' 20, and his legs were a huge factor. Vick had a 7-yard TD run and a 6-yard TD run.
He also hit McCoy on the 11-yard shovel pass and connected with Avant for the 3-yard TD.
Before Sunday's game, I'll provide a full red-zone breakdown for the season so far.
SUCCESS BY DISTANCE
Here's a chart of Vick's throws by distance. I used the same ranges that Football Outsiders uses so we'd have a point of reference. Short is 5 yards or less. Mid is 6 to 15 yards. Deep is 16 to 25 yards. And Bomb is more than 25 yards. These are measured from the line of scrimmage to the point where the ball is touched, hits the ground or goes out of bounds.
Hmm... 4-for-5 for 183 yards on throws that traveled more than 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. I guess that's OK. And 3-for-4 on throws that traveled more than 25 yards. Yeah, that's not bad either.
This was the Eagles' big-play offense at its finest. On the season, Vick's percentage on Bombs (66.7%) is higher than his overall completion percentage (62.7%).
On the season, Vick has eight completions that have gained 40-plus yards. That puts him at fourth in the league, but the three quarterbacks who have more have all attempted at least twice as many passes.
Vick's performance on Sunday was every bit as impressive as it looked. His decision-making was virtually flawless. His accuracy continues to be off the charts. And he is picking the perfect times to use his legs.
But let's step away from the numbers for a minute. When I re-watched the game, what I noticed was the body language of the Redskins' defenders - hanging their heads, throwing their arms in the air. They looked helpless. That negative body language was evident on plays when the Redskins thought they had the Eagles stopped, and Vick found some way to make a play with his legs and extend the drive.
Which takes us back to the all-important question: What is the right way to defend Vick? And no one has an answer - yet. Rest assured that teams will continue to try different things on a weekly basis, and chances are that some team will have success. That will be when we see how the Eagles and Vick adjust.
The Redskins tried using a spy at times on Vick, but whoever the deisgnated player was couldn't keep up with him. Later in the game, they tried to stay disciplined on pass plays and not really rush upfield, in an effort to block running lanes. But Vick just sat back and found his receivers. The problem with that strategy is that the Eagles receivers are too good to cover for an extended period of time.
I don't know what the answer is in terms of stopping Vick, given the way he's playing right now. I do know that the weakness of the Eagles' offense is still the line. Teams need to find a way to bring pressure, while limiting the number of big plays Vick makes with his legs. Easier said than done. But given the way he's slinging the ball from the pocket, I almost wonder if the right strategy is to force Vick out of the pocket and make him run 15-plus times a game. Maybe he'll rack up well over 100 yards, but at least it makes the Eagles one-dimensional.
We'll see what the Giants try on Sunday night.