Michael Vick and the Eagles present a unique challenge for defenses around the NFL. Needless to say, Vick is playing at an elite level and defending him is difficult. But it’s not impossible. The issue isn’t only his individual speed, but the speed that surrounds him.
Still, I have some ideas.
One of the issues that Vick presents is that his feet constantly get him out of trouble. Plus, the Eagles have two receivers in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin who deserve double coverage, which takes bodies away from defending Vick. Those are two differentiating factors.
I don’t believe you can play a conventional style of defense against the Eagles. If I had to design a defense to contain Vick, it would start by abandoning the base defense. However you want to do it, you have to put more athletes, and more speed, on the field.
The ideal situation is to have a four-man rush with great speed, dropping seven players into coverage. A three-man rush creates too many lanes for Vick to take off. But the Eagles have forced teams to change what they do, and that’s where it starts. It doesn’t make sense to use conventional 330-pound linemen against them. I think back to three seasons ago when the Giants used four defensive ends against the Patriots. That makes a lot of sense in terms of getting speed on the field.
Playing a very disciplined style is also key. You can’t let Philadelphia’s receivers off the line without bumping or re-routing them. With coverage over the top, corners need to have confidence to go after and muscle Jackson and Maclin, slowing their initial progress into routes. One option might even be an inverted look in a Cover 2 scheme, which the Patriots used to do to the Colts, where the more physical safeties are close to the line of scrimmage and the corners are over the top. Ultimately, when the ball is thrown 50 yards down field, you want your best coverage players with the most speed playing the ball in coverage.
I would also think about putting your fastest and best athletes on the second level to eyeball Vick, attacking him and forcing him to make quick decisions. The way Vick can throw the ball, or reset and take on pressure on the run, you need defenders who can attack him while he’s trying to buy time. I know the Packers have a “psycho” package that features one down lineman and five linebackers.
The team that used to give Vick the most problems when he was still in Atlanta was Tampa Bay, which had great team speed. They hit Vick every time he threw the ball and made him pay the price.
The Giants will be an interesting matchup, because they do have speed and a good secondary. How they played the Colts earlier this season with their dime look (six defensive backs and one linebacker) might be an option. I’m looking forward to seeing what Perry Fewell does. The Colts, at home, have the speed to test the Eagles. A physical team like the Saints, who can change up their looks often with different players, could present a challenge.
Andy Reid is creating plays and concepts every week, things that no one has ever really seen. He knows he has the element of speed. It’s the old Sid Gillman philosophy, forcing teams to defend every blade of grass. Vick allows him to do that.
But the Eagles aren’t invincible and can be had, and it starts by matching speed with speed.
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