Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Can the Jags Stop QB Michael Vick?
When the Jacksonville Jaguars host the Philadelphia Eagles this week, Michael Vick will make only his second NFL start since spending almost two years out of football in prison.
His first? Last week's evisceration of the Detroit Lions. Vick threw for 284 yards and two scores on 21-of-34 passing, earning a 101.8 passer rating in the Eagles' 35-32 win this past Sunday.
In that game's immediate aftermath, Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid indicated that concussed former starter Kevin Kolb was still atop the depth chart. But Reid changed his tune on Tuesday, gushing that Vick "is playing out of his mind right now" while naming him the Eagles' quarterback for the foreseeable future.
That's awfully high praise from a coach who's mentored the likes of Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb.
After two impressive performances in Philadelphia's first two games, Vick has spectators wondering if he might be even better in 2010 than he was before that two-year absence.
If that's true, how in the world are the Jaguars going to stop him?
QB Philip Rivers, RB Darren Sproles Showed How To Slash the Jags' Defense
San Diego's 38-point whipping of Jacksonville's defense last Sunday provided a blueprint for how to attack the Jaguars' conservative 4-3 defensive scheme.
Handicapped by the loss of two starting defensive backs, Jacksonville kept all three linebackers back in coverage on most downs. As the Chargers' offensive line kept the Jaguars' down linemen at bay, Philip Rivers racked up 334 yards on 22-of-29 passing.
And when Rivers wasn't gashing Jacksonville for passing yards, San Diego's ground game snatched chunks of yardage against a flat-footed defense. Out of the Chargers' 151 yards on 30 carries, the biggest was a 34-yard Wildcat scamper by Darren Sproles in the first quarter.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, that's exactly how Michael Vick wrong-foots defenses.
Pinning Vick's Wings, Part 1: Jags Need Benched CB Derek Cox's Swagger Back
Whether or not Derek Cox, Jacksonville's second-year project cornerback out of FCS William & Mary, is a better starter than the newly-acquired David Jones doesn't matter. Against Michael Vick and Philadelphia's high-octane passing attack, the Jaguars will need them both.
Last week, Jacksonville covered prolific San Diego pass-catcher Antonio Gates with a linebacker or safety on several of his five catches, including his nine-yard touchdown.
For such a prominent target, they'd have been better off using a good nickel cornerback. If Cox can shake off his poor performance against Denver in the season opener, he flashed enough playmaking ability and athleticism in 2009 to at least fill that role.
Pinning Vick's Wings, Part 2: DE Derrick Harvey Can't Let Jags' Contain Break
As a left-handed passer, Michael Vick will be rolling out toward the right side of the Jaguars' defensive line this Sunday. That's when he's at his most dangerous.
Jacksonville's Aaron Kampman, who usually lines up over the opponent's left tackle, will get plenty of chances to shed a block and add to his 1.5 sacks. But it's blind-side end Derrick Harvey who'll have the biggest impact on the Jaguars' success in bringing Vick down.
Aside from the obvious advantage of rushing the quarterback's backside, Harvey will also be tasked with pinning Vick down when he rolls out. The Eagles' speedy signal-caller is still a dangerous runner down the sideline, but he'll kill Jacksonville's spread-out defense if he's allowed to cut back across the field.
Pinning Vick's Wings, Part 3: Jags Must Copy DT Tyson Alualu's Relentless Motor
Two games into his NFL career, rookie defensive tackle Tyson Alualu has six tackles and one sack to his name. Though unspectacular, that's a respectable stat line.
Still, it doesn't quite tell the story of the head-on-fire playing style that's earned Alualu a starting gig on the Jaguars' defense from Day 1. Fighting frequent double-teams against Denver and San Diego, Alualu kept his hands and feet churning to get off his blocks.
He's even tried a few spin moves a la Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney, though without Freeney's success. Against Vick and Philadelphia, Jacksonville should expect plays to get extended. To corral the Eagles, each player on defense will have to be playing to the whistle like Alualu.
Pinning Vick's Wings, Part 4: CB Rashean Mathis' Tricky Coverage Is Jags' Key
If there's an edge Jacksonville can exploit in this matchup, it's that Michael Vick hasn't faced a cover corner of Rashean Mathis' caliber since 2006.
Green Bay's Charles Woodson, whom Vick played against as a replacement for Kolb in Philadelphia's season opener, is one of the NFL's best at the bump-and-run. Many a receiver has found himself unable to pry free from Woodson for targets and receptions.
Mathis, on the other hand, has a deceptive style designed to prey on impetuous passers. He's been a half-second and a hand to his facemask (pictured) away from two interceptions this season, and he'll be ready to milk Vick's shaky accuracy for a game-changing turnover if given the chance.
Philly's Weapons to Watch, Part 1: TE Brent Celek Hits the Soft Spot in Jags' D
Through two games, opposing tight ends have been the Jaguars' Achilles' heel.
Three-time All-Pro Antonio Gates, unsurprisingly, keyed San Diego's offense with five catches for 57 yards and two scores last Sunday. The Kansas City Chiefs triple-teamed Gates in their season opener, and still couldn't keep him out of the end zone.
But Jacksonville also allowed a 28-yard catch-and-run to Daniel Graham, Denver's blocking tight end, two weeks ago. Clearly, it's a position the Jaguars have trouble defending, and Philadelphia's Brent Celek (971 yards and eight touchdowns in 2009) is emerging as a big weapon in the Eagles' passing attack.
Philly's Weapons to Watch, Part 2: WRs Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant Vs. Jags' DBs
Thus far, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant have combined for only a few more targets (23) than Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb have given to DeSean Jackson, who has 18. Neither has exploded statistically yet, despite defenses' heavy attention on Jackson and Vick.
But if Jacksonville can't sort out Derek Cox and David Jones at cornerback, Maclin and Avant will break out in a big way this week.
Between Jackson and Philadelphia's running threats, safeties Courtney Greene and Sean Considine will have their hands full on Sunday. If Cox and Jones aren't both on the field, the Eagles' secondary receiving threats will be left one-on-one against linebackers and the bottom of Jacksonville's depth chart.
Philly's Weapons to Watch, Part 3: RB LeSean McCoy Fits Eagles' Wide-Open Attack
As mentioned earlier, the Jaguars had a world of trouble defending against the slashing style of the Chargers' Darren Sproles. They even struggled with the prosaic talents of San Diego backup Mike Tolbert, who ground through their defensive backfield for 82 yards on 16 carries.
Unfortunately for Jacksonville, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy is a blend of the two. Against Detroit last week, "Shady" followed his blockers and gashed his way to 120 yards and three scores on only 16 runs.
The main culprit on the Jaguars' defensive line responsible for the Chargers' great ground-game success was nose tackle Terrance Knighton. Play after play, Knighton came off the snap too late and too high to hunker down and gum up San Diego's blocking scheme.
For Jacksonville to do better against the Eagles, Knighton will need to charge low, quick, and hard to make traffic in front of McCoy.
Philly's Weapons to Watch, Part 4: WR DeSean Jackson's Speed Is NFL's Deadliest
Point-blank, there's no one on the Jaguars' roster who'd have a prayer at covering DeSean Jackson man-to-man.
That's not a slight against Rashean Mathis, Jacksonville's best cornerback, so much as praise for the most dangerous offensive player in the NFL. But when the Jaguars and Eagles met in the preseason this summer, Jackson was somehow isolated on backup linebacker Russell Allen for a big first-quarter catch.
If Jacksonville can't shut Jackson down, no one will hold it against them. As fast and elusive as he is, he's going to make at least a play or two. But scatter-brained mistakes in coverage (like leaving Allen to guard him) will only compound the talent gap between him and the Jaguars' secondary.
The Bottom Line: Vick's Flaws Won't Ground Eagles Vs. Jags' Gap-Toothed Defense
After all the matchups are dissected and the game plans are drawn up, success in the NFL is ultimately about the talent that's on the field.
This Sunday, Jacksonville simply won't have enough to account for all the ways Philadelphia's offense can move the ball.
Suppose Derrick Harvey and the Jaguars' outside linebackers clamp down on Michael Vick's pocket, shutting down his dangerous scrambling ability and forcing him to throw the ball. Suppose Jacksonville's defense, to a man, plays hard to the whistle to chase down the Eagles' many weapons.
Suppose, even, that Rashean Mathis picks off a pass or two.
The Jaguars' safeties would still need to play well beyond their skill level to account for both Brent Celek and DeSean Jackson. Realistically, they're in for an awfully long day.
Look forward to at least 250 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns for Vick, and he'll have a decent shot at running one in, too. His ceiling is limited only by Jacksonville's time of possession.