Friday, December 26, 2014

Mike Check: Examining Vick's struggles

What did the Vikings do to contain Michael Vick? And will other teams be able to follow their blueprint? Here's the weekly look at his performance.

Mike Check: Examining Vick's struggles

Michael Vick turned the ball over three times and had a season-low 74.1 QB rating in the Eagles' loss last week to the Vikings.

With an eye on how teams might choose to attack him in the playoffs, here's a closer look at Vick's performance and why he struggled.

As always, let's start with pass distribution.

  Targets Catches Yards YAC Drops
DeSean Jackson1323241
Brent Celek121097511
Jeremy Maclin9674200
LeSean McCoy5441371
Jason Avant
421660
Clay Harbor11300
TOTALS 44 25 263 118 3

Other than keeping Vick upright, the Eagles' biggest concern on offense is probably making sure he and Jackson are on the same page. That clearly was not the case against Minnesota. You've probably heard all week that Vick targeted Jackson 12 times, but it was actually 13. There was a play where Jackson was called for offensive pass interference on a near interception. Vick forced it to him at times and missed Jackson on the deep ball early. And Jackson did a poor job of coming back to the ball and fighting for possession against the Vikings defensive backs.

Celek had a nice game, tying a career high with 10 catches. He had not had more than four catches in a game all season. Celek's at his best when he's breaking tackles and making plays after the catch. He did that against Minnesota, leading the Eagles with 51 YAC.

Maclin was solid once again, catching six balls for 74 yards. He also drew a 24-yard pass interference call early on a third down.

The Eagles ran one nice screen to McCoy where he picked up 28 yards. The Vikings blitzed 12 of the first 17 times Vick dropped back. On the 18th pass play, Marty Mornhinweg dialed up a screen to McCoy, but the Vikings happened to not be blitzing and sniffed it out, stuffing McCoy for no gain.

Nice job by Harbor to keep his feet in on the 3-yard touchdown.

Overall, six different players had catches, and six different players had targets. No looks for Riley Cooper, Owen Schmitt, Chad Hall or Jerome Harrison in this one.

THE BLITZ, PRESSURE, SHOTGUN, ETC.

As has often been the case in recent weeks, this is the section where we learn the most about Vick.

Overall, the Vikings blitzed on 31 of 58 dropbacks (53.4 percent). But if you take out the garbage-time final series, it was 31 of 54 (57.4 percent).

It's important to note that the Vikings blitzed differently than the Giants. Vick burned the Giants in the fourth quarter when they sent six and seven defenders at him. But the Vikings pressured with five-man blitzes on 29 of 31 occasions. In other words, they still had six defenders in coverage, but they were successful in pressuring Vick. The Vikings dropped a lineman back into coverage 19 times. And they employed a formation of three down linemen so they could better disguise who was coming after Vick.

Vick was 9-for-20 for 116 yards against the blitz. There was also the 24-yard pass interference to Maclin. But the performance against the blitz was much worse than those numbers indicate. On 10 of the 31 plays that the Vikings blitzed him, Vick failed to even attempt a pass. On those plays, Minnesota sacked him five times and forced two fumbles. Vick ran for positive yardage on five occasions, but he didn't have a run of more than 8 yards against the blitz.

Remember, when Vick turned the tides against the Giants, it was because the Eagles' offense hit on big plays against the blitz. That didn't happen against the Vikings. He often looked for Jackson when the Vikings sent extra pressure. Ten of Jackson's 12 targets came on plays where the Vikings blitzed.

The Eagles need to get better at recognizing the blitz, blocking the extra defenders and hitting on big plays. That's not just Vick. That's the coaches, the running backs, the offensive line and the receivers too.

Vick threw out of the shotgun more than he had the previous two weeks. He was 17-for-29 for 188 yards out of the gun. And 8-for-14 for 75 yards under center.

The Eagles ran 17 plays that involved some kind of play-fake. That number might need to shrink in the playoffs, considering those plays are slow-developing and require superior protection. Vick was 8-for-13 for 75 yards on throws off play-fakes against the Vikings.

THIRD DOWN, RED ZONE

The box score shows the Eagles as 4-for-11 on third downs, but it was really 6-for-13 when you consider they got a pair of conversions on defensive penalties. Vick was 3-for-8 for 48 yards and an interception on third down. He was sacked once and had a 6-yard run.

Vick targeted Jackson more than any other receiver on third down. He was 0-for-5 on those attempts.

The Eagles continue to be good in the red zone. They converted both opportunities into touchdowns and are now five for their last six in the red zone.

On the first trip, Vick was 1-for-2 for 3 yards, finding Harbor for the touchdown.

On the second trip, he was 0-for-1 but had the 10-yard touchdown run.

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.

  Completions Attempts Yards
Short 15 18 114
Mid 8 15 100
Deep 1 3 21
Bomb 1 8 28

What sticks out here is the lack of efficiency on throws downfield. Vick was just 2-for-11 on passes that traveled more than 15 yards from the line of scrimmage; 1-for-8 on passes that went more than 25 yards. He hit Jackson on a 21-yard gain and found Maclin for a 28-yard pickup, but that was it.

He looked for Jackson on Bomb throws four times, but came up empty on all of them.

OVERALL

I have a difficult time believing that Vick's injury (sustained on the first play) had nothing to do with his performance. There's no question that the Vikings had a great defensive gameplan and caught the Eagles off-guard. But we also saw Vick miss throws he's been completing all season, and he could have been picked off at least three more times.

There are two things that stick out as points of concern with Vick right now. One is ball security. He's thrown six interceptions in his last five games and hasn't gone without an INT since Week 11. Thrown in the fumbles, and he's turned it over nine times in his last six.

The other thing that stood out was Vick looked more uncomfortable than he has all season - missing throws, fleeing the pocket before he needed to, stepping right into pressure. If the injury was a serious factor in all those things - and I think it could have been to a degree - Vick should be ready to go in the first round of the playoffs. But if old habits are creeping back up, Mornhinweg and Andy Reid will have to squash them quickly.

The Eagles' offense actualy wasn't horrible in the second half, and contrary to popular belief, they actually did make adjustments - specifically, accounting for Antoine Winfield. The Birds drove into Vikings territory on four of five second-half possessions, but they managed to score just seven points.

There's been a lot of talk about the blueprint for stopping Vick. And it really varies by team and personnel. I think it's clear that letting him set up in the pocket and find receivers is a bad idea. Pressuring him and hitting him early is key. But if that pressure requires sending six or more guys and blitzing on every down, chances are Vick will be able to hit on some big plays. If the schemes can confuse Vick (see: Vikings), the Eagles' offense can struggle to find its rhythm. Defenses that can get to him with just four linemen have the biggest advantage.

We won't see Vick take a snap again until the playoffs. Whichever team makes the trip to the Linc will undoubtedly take a close look at the Vikings game and come up with its own wrinkle on how to try to contain him. It's up to the Eagles to be ready for it this time. They weren't against Minnesota, and it might have cost them a first-round bye. If they're not ready the next time around, it will mean the end of their season.

Sheil Kapadia Philly.com
About this blog
Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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Sheil Kapadia Philly.com
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