Up until Sunday Night, Michael Vick wasn’t just unstoppable, he was “unslowable.” Yes, the dynamic quarterback was good enough to warrant the invention of a brand new word. Vick hadn’t been held to a quarterback rating below 90, had accounted for at least two touchdowns in every game he started and finished and was averaging 336.75 yards of total offense and 3.5 combined touchdowns in those four games.
On Sunday Night, despite leading the Eagles to a win, Vick appeared to be a mere mortal, accounting for 292 yards of offense and just one touchdown, a 4-yard run. Vick also fumbled twice and lost one, his first turnover as an Eagle and first since December 24, 2006 when he threw two picks in an Atlanta loss to Carolina.
“They just went more Cover 3 and 6 than what they had done in the past,” said head coach Andy Reid. “So, [the extra man] wasn’t necessarily in the box, well depending on how you look at the box, he was outside the tight end.”
The Giants utilized a strategy predicated on blitzing Vick from his left, forcing him to roll out to his right. That makes a Cover 6 defense particularly effective, as it is essentially a Cover 3 shaded to one side. Rather than having the three deep defensive backs split the field into thirds, one takes half of the field (in this case, the offensive left) and the other two each covers a quarter. Therefore, by forcing Vick to his right with a blitz and leaving just one safety deep to his left, the Giants were able to split the field in half and provide good coverage in the secondary on the play side.
The Cover-6 also typically features man coverage on the best receiver on the field, which would be DeSean Jackson for the Eagles. It makes a lot of sense against Vick, who is difficult to sack and able to launch the ball deep down the field, making him a defensive coordinator’s nightmare.
The Giants mixed the Cover-3 and Cover-6 in with a lot of zero blitzes, leaving no safeties down field, keeping Vick guessing throughout the game.
“You put so much on out on the line when you bring that type of blitz and we had a plan for it,” Vick said. “We really didn’t think we would see it as much and it was good that we had an opportunity to get that a lot today because we had a chance to work on it and be ready for it next time out.”
So Philadelphia hopes to adapt to the new looks it’s getting on defense, particularly when they vary so dramatically. From no deep safeties and very little time to make a decision on a zero blitz to plenty of time while being flushed out against the grain with a tough secondary lining up deep safeties, Vick had to battle different schemes all day.
It’s hard to say which opponents might look to the Giants’ game plan and borrow some, if not all, of defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s ideas. Up next is a Chicago Bears team that runs a Tampa-2 defense thanks to head coach Lovie Smith’s five years with the Buccaneers.
The defense is a Cover-2 that is predicated on forcing teams to complete a series of passes to move the ball down the field, focusing on not giving up big plays. It’s different in scheme, but similar in philosophy to Fewell’s “read and react,” mantra.
Regardless the Eagles now have one more scheme to keep in the back of their minds as a possibility, particularly as it was rather effective in slowing down the hottest player in the league. The question is whether Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg can scheme against it in the next week or so to get Vick ready for the one defense that has given him a bit of trouble this year.
If they’re successful, he just might go back to being unstoppable and “unslowable.”
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