"We know he's a great dual-threat quarterback, but once we bottle it up and frustrate him, we know he's going to tank a little bit," Seahawks safety Earl Thomas told the Associated Press about Newton.
I'll deal directly with both how to help Vick choke as well as how to take advantage of it in a moment or two, but first, let's talk about how big this game is.
The Lions are in a bind. Sure, it's early, but at 1-3, the season is perilously close to going completely off the rails, lighting on fire and plummeting into an abyss.
After the Eagles, the Lions head to Chicago for a vital division showdown, welcome the tough Seattle Seahawks, and after what should be an easy game in Jacksonville (like the one in Tennessee), face the Vikings in Minnesota, the Packers and the Texans.
The way this team is playing, it's hard to envision them winning more than a pair of those games.
They can start the whole thing turning around though with a win—a decisive win—in Philadelphia.
To do that, they have to make the most of their chances.
When the Lions are on Offense
This is not a game where the offense can start slowly. As much as I expect Vick to turn the ball over a lot, this is an offense with a lot of weapons who can score.
Thus, the Lions cannot start slowly. They need to get the offense moving right away, which will keep their play-calling options open.
Calvin Johnson said it yesterday, according to Chris McCosky of The Detroit News. The Lions need to play more physical at receiver. Far too often, they are being handled by defensive backs and linebackers, and they need to set the tone themselves.
As a whole, they need to play more physically.
Something else, which really jumps out at you watching All-22 of the last few games (especially the loss to the Vikings), is that Matt Stafford is not going through his progressions.
Now, not knowing exactly what the reads are and who he should look at when, it can be tough to be sure of it, but he certainly looks like he is deciding where to throw the ball too quickly, often while under no pressure.
Take this play from the Vikings for example.
The target on the play (which ends up incomplete) is tight end Brandon Pettigrew who runs a very simple route toward the front corner of the end zone.
As you can see, he's pretty well covered. The other highlighted player is Calvin Johnson. Now, as Johnson runs his route, he starts off with a defender right with him, though the player is on the far side of Johnson.
As he keeps running, other defenders shift. They will end up around him, but he will have split the zone up—there is plenty of room for him to make a catch. In fact, he ends up far more open than Pettigrew.
Yes, Johnson is still not completely clear, but he's more open than Pettigrew, and with Johnson's height and ability, even just chucking it into his general direction is safer than doing the same thing with Pettigrew.
Stafford is likely pressing a bit, but he just isn't waiting long enough for plays to develop. It's not just involving Johnson either—plenty of times, he overlooks other open players
While Stafford settles down, Mikel Leshoure is going to have to heat up again.
He's been up and down in the two games he has played in before the break, and the rust at this point should be knocked off. If possible, you want to keep the Eagles offense off the field (despite Mr. Vick's turnover frenzy).
Running the ball effectively will do that and burn clock as well. The Eagles are a tough match for Leshoure but not a shutdown defense by any stretch. If the line can open holes for him, Leshoure should be able to make some noise.
More than anything else, the Lions have to avoid punting at all costs and score anytime they are on the Eagles' side of the field.
They have to put points on the board as often as they can.
When the Lions are on Defense
As I mentioned up top, Vick has a fumbling problem, and the Lions need to cause more fumbles.
The should line up nicely for Detroit.
It's not even so much that Vick gets hit a lot (he does) and that causes more fumbles. Watching the game against the Steelers, he holds the ball far too loosely.
I can't say if this is something new or a problem he had before which is just coming home to roost.
But, it is a problem. On the first fumble (shown on the screen cap below), Vick carried the ball through a huge hole in the line, and instead of sliding, dove head first. When he landed (untouched), he let go of the ball (or it was jarred loose), and it bounced away.
It was a ridiculous fumble—and he wasn't down, by the way, because he wasn't "downed" by a Steeler.
That's just sloppy.
The second one happened at the 1-yard line, and while this time he was hit, he wasn't hit hard enough—and the ball did not appear to be hit directly—before it came out.
The Lions need to hit Vick, and there should be ample chances to do it, considering he scrambles so much. While knocking him around, the defensive line, especially, should be clawing at the ball as often as they can.
Of course, you don't sacrifice a tackle and a loss for the chance at a turnover, but even tackling should involve punching at the ball.
You need to generate turnovers, and the Eagles give up the ball a ton. If you can't generate a couple fumbles or a pick, we've got some issues because Vick is primed, and this defense should be able to come after him hard.
As long as we're talking defense, a vital aspect is playing the receivers physical. Hit DeSean Jackson and (if he plays) Jeremy Maclin at the line. Don't let Jackson get separation and try to knock him off his route.
Tight end Brent Celek is an issue, for sure. It's going to take some help from the safeties for this linebacking corps to hold him down. You can't knock him around—he's too big and beefy. So you have to hit him as he catches or get inside of him to knock the pass away.
Finally, LeSean McCoy. You aren't likely to stop him, so let's talk containment. The Steelers we able to slow him down, as was Arizona, but part of that was McCoy being used in a limited fashion. If the Lions can get ahead, they might take McCoy out of the game plan a bit.
Defensively, the Lions need to get penetration and hit him behind the line of scrimmage without getting so aggressive he slips past them and find open field.
If he does, it's going to be bad.
Believe it or not, this is a winnable game. In fact, I have them picked to win in the B/R staff picks as well as multiple other venues because I believe that with two weeks to prepare, and Vick, whom I think is more of a hindrance than a help, the Lions can win this game.
However, they need to play hard and come out physical and fast.
Once they get a lead, they have to keep their cleat on the Eagles' necks for the rest of the game.
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