Mike Check: Vick’s Matchup With the Ravens

We’ve devoted plenty of space here to Michael Vick’s struggles in Week 1. But here’s a breakdown of two specific areas – blitz and play-action – with an eye on Sunday’s matchup against the Ravens.

AGAINST THE BLITZ

The Browns sent extra pressure on 18 of Vick’s 61 dropbacks, or 29.5 percent of the time. Against the blitz, Vick was 7-for-17 for 145 yards (41.2 completion percentage, 8.5 yards per attempt). Against four rushers or fewer, he was 22-for-39 for 172 yards. Both touchdowns, one sack and all four interceptions came against four rushers or fewer.

Here’s a look at how Vick performed against different numbers of rushers:

Number Of Rushers
Total Plays
Completions
Attempts
Yards
342319
4392036153
515514122
632323

There’s a tiny  morsel of encouraging news in those numbers. Vick averaged 8.5 yards per attempt against extra pressure. The key to getting defenses to think twice about blitzing is to burn them with big plays. Vick only completed 41.2 percent of his passes against extra pressure, but at least he picked up big chunks of yardage on some of the completions.

Pay special attention to Vick’s performance against five rushers (5-for-14, 122 yards last week). In 2011, the Ravens rushed five 28.2 percent of the time, fifth-most in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Vick will face just one extra rusher often on Sunday. He, Jason Kelce and the rest of the offense will need to identify where the pressure is coming from. Often times last week, it was from the edge. And that will likely continue against Baltimore.

I mentioned in yesterday’s cheat sheet that Andy Dalton had success with quick screens against the Ravens’ blitz. Here’s one example with the All-22 footage, starting with what the defense looks like pre-snap.

The Ravens have seven defenders at the line of scrimmage. The circled receiver is Andrew Hawkins. He was originally lined up in the slot to the right side, but Dalton motioned him to the left, perhaps sensing that’s where the pressure was coming from. He also had another receiver to that side, which would help to block for the eventual screen.

Leaving unblocked defenders is not always a bad thing. Here, the Bengals run a quick play-fake, but they (on purpose) allow three defenders from Dalton’s back-side to rush unblocked.

Andy Dalton against the Ravens' blitz

The arrow points to two of those defenders. The third one I mentioned fell for the play-fake and attacked the ball-carrier. The Bengals offensive linemen, meanwhile, hustled downfield to set up blocks.

Andy Dalton against the Ravens blitz

As you can see, Hawkins had plenty of running room, and the Bengals had the Ravens defenders out-numbered. The pass was made behind the line of scrimmage, but this turned out to be a 27-yard gain, the Bengals’ longest of the day. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles use these quick wide receiver screens Sunday.

PLAY-ACTION

A couple people asked me on Twitter to chart Vick’s throws when the Eagles used any type of play-fake to the running backs last week. Overall, the Eagles used a play-fake on 19 of 61 dropbacks, or 31.1 percent of the time. In those situations, Vick was just 7-for-16 for 79 yards and a pair of interceptions. Both his sacks also came off play-action. And he also had an 11-yard scramble.

There are a couple reasons the Eagles use play-action. Opposing defenses play their safeties deep to protect against big plays from DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Fakes to LeSean McCoy can get them to inch up. They can also get linebackers to bite and open up the middle of the field for Jason Avant and Brent Celek.

Play-action also gets Vick deep into his drops, which offensive line coach Howard Mudd said back at training is important.

“The only thing that we really stress is the depth of the pocket,” Mudd said. “Because Mike isn’t really tall, so when he gets to his throwing spot, the more separation you can have between the original line and Mike is really important so that he feels, oh, there’s a bunch of space here. I can see, I can deliver, take off if you want.”

But there’s also a downside. In the past two years, Vick has worked to identify what he’s seeing pre-snap. Turning his back to the defense for a second or two delays Vick from going through his reads. That might mean having a defender in his face or sensing false pressure and taking off to run. It might also mean losing track of a defender and making a bad throw.

That appeared to be the case last week on the pick-six to Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. The Eagles ran a play-fake, and while Jackson paused for a split-second, he was able to get back in his drop quick enough to make the interception.

“We were in Cover-2, and Vick not being the tallest of quarterback, he loses zone droppers occasionally,” Jackson told reporters after the game.

When the Eagles ran no play-fake at all last week, Vick was 22-for-40 for 238 yards (55 percent completions, 5.95 YPA). Not great numbers, but better than what he produced with the play-fakes (43.8 percent, 4.9 YPA).

It’ll be interesting to see how often the Eagles try to get Ray Lewis and the other Ravens defenders to bite on Sunday. Or if they reduce the number of play-fakes after Week 1.