In the beginning, they were hesitant to use extra rushers against Michael Vick. Arizona was playing without safety Adrian Wilson, and the guess here is that the Cardinals wanted to force the Eagles to move methodically down the field, something they have not been able to do consistently. The Cardinals didn’t want to fall victim to a 1- or 2-play touchdown drive where Vick hit DeSean Jackson for a downfield bomb.
The numbers bear this out. On the Eagles’ first 23 passing plays, the Cardinals sent extra pressure (more than four defenders) just four times. The key was that they brought heat from different places. Arizona often plays with just two true defensive linemen – Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. But they have outside linebackers like Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield. And they have play-making inside linebacker Daryl Washington, who gave Vick and the offense fits. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton was willing to blitz his defensive backs too.
The second half was a different story. Playing with the lead, the Cardinals were able to take more risks and attack. On the Eagles’ final 24 passing plays, Arizona blitzed 12 times, often sending six defenders at Vick.
Below is a table with some details.
Number of Rushers
Number of Plays
For our purposes, we’ll define a blitz as five rushers or more. As you can see, the Cardinals blitzed Vick on 16 of 47 dropbacks, or 34.0 percent of the time. He was 4-for-14 for 89 yards and a pair of sacks against the blitz. Not good.
The Cardinals took advantage of Dallas Reynolds, often sending pressure up the middle. The numbers on the “big” blitzes of six rushers are especially troubling. Vick was 0-for-7 with a pair of sacks on those. And on four of the incompletions, he had to throw the ball away. In other words, Vick targeted a receiver on just three of nine occasions when the Cardinals sent a six-man rush.
Think other teams will take notice of that?
Of course, the point here is not to place all the blame on Vick. He absolutely needs to play better. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg need to do a better job of protecting him too. On 19 of 47 passing plays, or 40.4 percent of the time, he ended up on the ground. Those include sacks, knockdowns and runs. Earlier, I broke down the offensive line issues. But here’s a look at each of the 19 hits individually. The point is that everyone – from Vick to the offensive line to the running backs to the tight ends to the coaching staff – had a part in Sunday’s horrible offensive performance.
One: The Eagles ran a slow-developing play-action pass on the first play from scrimmage. By the time Vick turned around, Campbell, who had beaten Demetress Bell, was in his face. Vick scrambled for 3 yards, and Washington hit him just before he went out of bounds. The Cardinals did not blitz on the play.
Two: No blitz here either. Bell got beaten by Acho. LeSean McCoy tried to pick up Washington, who was rushing on the play. Vick pump-faked, trying to set up a play downfield, but because of the presure, had to escape the pocket. Washington crushed him as he threw the ball away.
Three: This was a third down, and the Cardinals only rushed three. Reynolds and Evan Mathis initially double-teamed Campbell. Mathis left to help Bell, and Campbell went right around Reynolds, hitting Vick as he let go of the ball.
Four: Once again, the Eagles ran a slow developing play-fake. It seemed like Vick held onto the ball too long, but keep in mind, the fake did not work very well, and the Cardinals did not blitz. Arizona had eight defenders in coverage going up against three Eagles receivers in pass routes. Schofield was initially fooled, but he had time to get to Vick and sack him. It’ll be interesting to look at this one with the All-22 to see if Vick had anyone open.
Five: This was originally a designed roll-out to the left. The Cardinals only rushed four, and Vick couldn’t find a receiver, so he scrambled to his right. But he didn’t protect the football and ended up fumbling.
Six: The Cardinals only rushed four, but McCoy was slow to pick up Washington. Vick narrowly escaped a safety, but was eventually sacked.
Seven: Another four-man rush. Vick had plenty of time. Of course, that was partly because Bell was holding an offensive lineman. Vick took off, ran and was hit after a 5-yard scramble. The play came back anyway because of the flag.
Eight: Vick ran for 20 yards, but refused to slide and had his head slammed into the ground by Washington. No blitz here. Just a three-man rush.
Nine: Brent Celek did a poor job trying to block outside linebacker Quentin Groves and gave up a hit. The Cardinals rushed six on the play.
Ten: This was the game-changing fumble at the end of the first half. The way I see it, one of two things happened here. Both are based on whether or not McCoy made a mistake. If McCoy was supposed to block Kerry Rhodes coming off the edge, it’s on him. If he was correct to protect the other side, then it’s on Vick for not recognizing Rhodes would be unblocked pre-snap. I’ve heard some argue that Vick held onto the ball too long here. I timed it. The ball was in his hands for 1.7 seconds. The Eagles were on the 1-yard line, but it’s not like he stood there and pump-faked three times.
Eleven: A delayed blitz from Schofield. He was originally lined up outside Todd Herremans, but looped inside, and Watkins failed to pick him up. Schofield went untouched and hit Vick low as he released the ball.
Twelve: Celek couldn’t hold his block on Acho. It seemed like he expected the ball to be out sooner. Acho crushed Vick from behind as he released the ball to Jason Avant. No blitz, just a four-man rush.
Thirteen: Another four-man rush in the third. Vick had all day, couldn’t find a receiver, decided to run and picked up 4 yards. He did not slide.
Fourteen: Four-man rush once again. Reynolds gets beat badly by defensive tackle David Carter. Vick stepped up and was sacked.
Fifteen: Another slow-developing play-action pass. By the time Vick turned around, he had Washington in his face. He simply had no shot. The Cardinals rushed six defenders, and Washington was not fooled.
Sixteen: Play-action pass. Bell got beaten badly by Campbell. Vick tried to escape and was hit by Acho as he threw the ball away. Vick was called for intentional grounding. The Cardinals sent six rushers on the play.
Seventeen: Campbell split the double-team between Reynolds and Mathis, hitting Vick as he released the football in the fourth quarter. It was a four-man rush.
Eighteen: The Cardinals sent a five-man blitz in the fourth. Safety James Sanders blitzed up the middle, and nobody picked him up. McCoy was occupied with another blitzer, and Reynolds was double-teaming Washington with Watkins. He likely was supposed to step out.
Nineteen: The TV broadcast blacked out momentarily on this one. But the Cardinals sent six, and Sanders came through the middle once again to hit Vick. It looked like either McCoy or Reynolds was supposed to pick him up.
Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.