It has been pointed out before that Michael Vick‘s fall from the elite can be traced back to the “Nation of Wussies” game against the Vikings late in the 2010 season. He had thrown 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions heading into that odd Tuesday night tilt. Since then, he has thrown 23 touchdowns and 22 picks. Some believe that Leslie Frazier and the Vikings established a blueprint on how to stymie Vick. And in one respect, they’re right.
The vision that comes to mind when you think of that game — besides maybe the sign planted in a mound of snow on top of Ed Rendell‘s front-row seat — is cornerback Antoine Winfield torturing Vick with blitz after blitz. Winfield was credited with two sacks and a quarterback hit. He also had this strip and fumble return for a touchdown that got the momentum going in Minnesota’s favor.
Vick continues to struggle against defensive back blitzes, and the league is wise to it. The Eagles’ signal-caller has seen the most defensive back blitzes in the league (tied with Ben Roethlisberger) through three games, according to ESPN Next Level Stats. He is 5-of-19 (26.3 percent) in those situations, which is the worst rate in the NFL.
It’s not surprising, then, that the Cardinals decided to send safety Kerry Rhodes off the edge on one of the most critical plays of the game last Sunday. Six seconds remaining in the half, the Eagles facing a 3rd-and-goal at the one-yard line. We all know how it ended. This is how it looked right before the ball was snapped. (The arrow is above Rhodes.)
Demetress Bell and the rest of the linemen have already identified their blocking assignments as Rhodes creeps towards the line of scrimmage. It doesn’t appear that Vick ever gives a final look to his left. He has no idea that Rhodes is coming.
“Vick didn’t see him,” said Eagles corner Curtis Marsh.
LeSean McCoy vacates the area and moves to the right. By the time he doubles back, it’s way too late.
James Sanders picks up the loose change and runs 93 yards for a touchdown. Game over.
Andy Reid was asked what the key is to picking up the DB blitz.
“You have to identify it first and then you’ve got to block it,” said Reid. “Or you get the ball out before that person gets there. But number one is identifying it.”
That is obviously still an issue for Vick.
One of the decisions made following last season was that Jason Kelce would share pass protection responsibilities at the line of scrimmage with Vick pre-snap. Kelce told me during training camp, “I have the ability to change [the protection] based on maybe safeties shifting or them tipping away the blitz.”
The explanation for Kelce’s increased role was that it allowed Vick to concentrate more on the play at hand. You can’t help but wonder if it is also because Vick was having issues decoding defenses, and what it all means now that Kelce is lost for the year.
Vick’s vulnerabilities are about to get tested in a big way. While all other teams have used defensive back blitzes 20 percent of the time against him since 2010, the Giants have deployed such pressure on 41 percent of Vick’s dropbacks over their last three meetings, per ESPN.
“The things that they show, we’ve tried to work on,” said Reid. “I’m sure they’ll have a new wrinkle in there. We’ll be ready for that.”
But will Vick?
Interestingly enough, Nick Foles was asked this week about the art of reacting to blindside pressure. The unproven rookie is no expert on this level, but his thoughts are noteworthy.
“At initial snap you can sense in your peripherals the get-off of the ball,” said Foles. “You’re always keeping your eyes downfield so you just have to feel the pocket. When you’re moving you can use your peripherals to sort of see glances of color and glances of everything. It’s more of a feel, and timing. You know you have a clock in your head. You know what each play is designed for, the timing of each play. So if you don’t have something you’re really trying to get the ball to your check-down or if you feel pressure you’re trying to get out and up or up and move and set, and deliver the ball. It’s just playing the game for a while, you get a feel.”
It’s hard to read that and not think of the internal clock that Vick appears to put on snooze at times, being so confident that his natural ability will allow him to escape. Given that DB blitzes come from further out, it stands to reason that they would be more effective against quarterbacks that may hang in there a beat longer than they should.
Under the assumption that Vick is having issues reading the blitz and is holding onto the ball too long, is it any wonder that teams are firing safeties and corners at him? The Giants are doing it more than anybody, and are sure to dial up a few more come Sunday night.