Vick, Eagles must deal with blitz

Posted Jan. 03, 2011 @ 4:08 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

The Giants and Vikings showed that Eagles QB Michael Vick can be neutralized at times with blitzing defensive backs and linebackers, and though both teams took different approaches to stopping him, each had varying levels of success doing so. Now the Packers, who showed more pressure than usual against the Bears in Week 17, could employ a similar tactic, assuming Vick is ready to go Sunday. All indications are that he is healthy and able.

The PFW Spin

The Giants had a plan the first time they faced Vick this season: they employed three safeties and blitzed one of them more than 20 times. If it wasn't Antrel Rolle, it was Deon Grant. They did more of it in the second matchup, and for 3½ quarters it worked well. The defense simply tired badly down the stretch. Against the Vikings, CB Antoine Winfield came from the slot 16 times in the game, he said, and this from a team that might have blitzed its nickel corner 16 times all season prior to the game. It was something many of the Eagles' linemen admitted afterward they had not seen on tape, and thus had not prepared for.

Well, get ready. The Packers have one of the best blitzing corners in recent memory in Charles Woodson, who came on many pressures against the Bears in Week 17, and also can send Tramon Williams, who is developing nicely in this area. Sure, that takes a good cover guy out of coverage, but it also can harass Vick before he can get off a pass.

"(Woodson is) a future Hall of Fame player, he's a good player, and they play him in the nickel  position, that's how they played us last time," Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. "They played us in the nickel last time and they kind of started off doing that against Chicago  and then mixed it a little bit as it went on yesterday. So they feel very comfortable with him playing in that, which really is like a "Will" linebacker position, he's a physical guy. He has great speed. He's a great blitzer, great blitzer. So that's how they use him."

It's not just defensive backs, either, that you can expect to come. The Vikings used linebackers to pressure up the middle and on the defensive right side, right in Vick's throwing alleys. They and the Giants also stunted their defensive linemen, working right into those passing lanes, where the 6-foot Vick and his three-quarters delivery can be affected. The Giants focused on this in their second matchup, and their defensive linemen batted down four of Vick's 35 pass attempts; the Vikings picked up on this and affected a lot of his throws by having their front four try to deflect passes.

The Eagles work out of the shotgun a lot, and it has been where Vick has been at his most dangerous and his most vulnerable to getting hit. His eyes are on the ball being snapped, not downfield reading the coverage or on the line seeing the late movement of the pressure, and the offensive line hasn't held up its end of the bargain by protecting as effectively as it needs to do. Another reason why blitzing DBs is smarter than linebackers is that they are more agile and can take down Vick easier than a 250-pound linebacker can. Zone dogs also can be effective at achieving this end without leaving the secondary as vulnerable as five-, six- and seven-man blitzes can.

Handling pressure from the Packers will be the key to the game Sunday. If Vick is under constant fire like he and Kevin Kolb were in the first matchup (six sacks, the same number of times the Packers took down Cutler in Week 17), then the Eagles cannot execute their downfield passing game and strike with their lethal plays on offense. And as we have seen in recent weeks, asking too much out of the Eagles' defense just isn't going to happen. Philadelphia will have to win games with scoring, plain and simple. You can't score if your quarterback — especially the extra-vulnerable Vick, who opens himself up to more hits with his scrambling — is on the ground.