Michael Vick: Has the League Figured Out How To Contain Him?

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IDecember 2, 2010

Michael Vick: Has the League Figured Out How To Contain Him?

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    Michael Vick finally threw an interception last week against Chicago, his first of the season.

    That "first since Dec. 24, 2006," stat is a bit misleading.

    Not only did he throw a pick (and in the red zone, no less), Vick was widely contained as a runner by the Bears defense. He only ran nine times for 44 yards.

    But the most important stat? The Eagles lost for the first time in which Vick started and finished a game.

    So is the defensive blueprint drawn up by Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli now the Bible to defensive coordinators around the NFL?

    Maybe. But that doesn't mean it will work.

    Inside are five reasons why the answer to stopping Vick has been discovered. And five reasons why it hasn't.

No. 5: No, Vick Still Played Great against Chicago

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    Because the Eagles' defense allowed Jay Cutler to throw four touchdown passes in the game's opening 32 minutes, Philadelphia found themselves down by two touchdowns throughout most of the second half.

    That meant the Eagles had to somewhat abandon their running game (LeSean McCoy had just 10 carries the entire game) and rely on Vick's arm.

    Although he was unable to run for gobs of yards, he had arguably the finest passing day of his career. Vick competed a career-record 29 passes, five more than his previous best.

    It was also only the fourth 300-yard passing day of his career.

    And did you see that throw he threaded to Brent Celek in the end zone to cut the lead to seven? Flawless.

    Vick's feet, and his moves, are what make him exciting. But it's his ridiculously strong arm that makes him arguably the most unique player in league history.

    And Chicago did not have an answer for that.

No. 5: Yes, Limiting the Big Plays

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    The Michael Vick-MVP train hit full speed after the first play of the Eagles' Monday Night blowout win in Washington.

    When he heaved an 88-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson while fans were still settling into their seats at FedEx Field, it epitomized everything dangerous about Vick. More so than any other quarterback in the NFL, he is capable of scoring from any place on the field, with either his feet or his arm.

    This season, he has thrown six passes that netted 40 or more yards, in addition to three carries that netted 20 or more yards.

    But in the last two games against the Giants and Bears, Vick hasn't been able to come up with those trademark big plays.

    And to some extent, the Philly offense has struggled in those two games, losing one and narrowly defeating the Giants a week earlier.

    Maybe teams are starting to consent to overplay the deep ball. And to let Vick try and consistently gain yards on short routes and short scrambles.

No. 4: No, Vick's Accuracy is Unparalleled

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    The knock on Vick has always been his accuracy.

    And it was a well-deserved criticism. For an entire season, he never completed 60 percent of his passes while in Atlanta.

    In fact, he never even came close.

    His best was 56.4 percent in 2004.

    Barring some sort of horrific collapse, he'll shatter that personal mark this season. As of Week 13, Vick is completing 63.4 percent of his throws.

    And he has been remarkably consistent each week, only once falling well short of the quarterback Mendoza line of 60 percent.

    More to the point, last week—when the Bears "figured Vick out"—he completed 66 percent.

    The game plan carried out by Chicago last Sunday night may have forced a turnover and kept him from rushing for a touchdown. But when he throws with that type of accuracy (66 percent), he is as dangerous a passer as Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning.

No. 4: Yes, They Stopped DeSean Jackson

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    It's no coincidence that Michael Vick is having his greatest single season on the same team as DeSean Jackson.

    Jackson might be the best deep-threat in the NFL. He has a handful of 60-plus yard touchdown catches in less than three full seasons.

    But last week against Chicago, he only made two catches for a total of 26 yards.

    Vick still posted great numbers. But the Eagles lost the game, which is the ultimate objective of any defense.

    So maybe they didn't stop Michael Vick from being Michael Vick. But, because they contained Jackson,  the Bears did stop the Eagles from being the explosive scoring threat they have been in so many games this year.

No. 3: No, Sacks Against Vick Don't Mean Much

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    Part of the reason why the Bears are getting credit for "figuring out" Michael Vick is because they sacked him four times in Sunday's win.

    In fact, ESPN.com blogger Kevin Seifert dubbed the first sack of the game one of his "Decisive Moments" of Week 12. 

    But sacks aren't always a great litmus test against Michael Vick.

    Despite his tremendous speed and athleticism, he is a relatively easy target. From 2004-06, when Vick was the starter in Atlanta, he was sacked an NFC-high 124 times.

    And in 2010, despite missing most of the Washington game and the three weeks that followed, he has been sacked 22 times. Fifth-most in the NFC.

    So while sacks are great for defenders' self-esteem and can certainly ruin a drive—or even a game—they are just one play among dozens. 15 pressures and no sacks is far better than five sacks and no pressures.

No. 3: Yes, Forcing Vick Right

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    Several members of the media, including the staff at the Philadelphia Inquirer, were quick to point out that part of the reason why Vick didn't make big plays in either the running game or the passing game was because they continually forced him to his right.

    The Bears had no illusions about completely shutting down Michael Vick. No one has done that this year.

    But they were smart enough to reduce his options. As a lefty, Vick is much more comfortable rolling left or flat-out running to his left.

    So the Bears overloaded that side several times.

    Certainly, there was just as good a chance he'd burn them to the right. But on this day, he didn't.

    There was a play late in the third quarter when Vick looked like he would scramble to the right and gain a first down. But Julius Peppers tripped him up just enough to keep him from reaching the yard marker.

    The Eagles then punted.

    If that play happens on the opposite side of the field, maybe the Eagles get the first, score a touchdown and win the game.

    It's hardly a "new" game plan to force Vick right. The way in which the Bears did it seemed pretty effective.

No. 2: No, Vick and the Methodical Drive

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    The big play has always been Vick's trademark.

    Whether it's that overtime run in Minnesota in 2002, the recent touchdown he threw on Monday against the Redskins or that on-the-run, 52-yard throw he made as a rookie against Miami in 2001, that's Vick's signature.

    But what has made Vick (and the Eagles) especially successful in 2010 is the fact that he's been patient as well.

    Forget what he did against Washington or Jacksonville, two of the best statistically games in his career. Look what he's done in the past two weeks, amidst concern that he's been "figured" out. 

    Against the Giants, he led the team on five drives that lasted at least six plays and covered at least 48 yards. The next week, against the Bears, he led the team on six drives that lasted at least six plays and covered at least 41 yards.

    What does that mean? Vick is getting better at checking the ball down, avoiding mistakes and being more selective about his throws.

    That may yield fewer 88-yard touchdowns to DeSean Jackson. But it also might yield more wins.

No. 2: Yes, They Didn't Spy

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    Anytime Michael Vick makes a big play on the ground, the question about a spy (a player, usually a linebacker, whose sole job is to mirror the quarterback) comes up.

    After the Bears victory last Sunday, safety Daniel Manning gave his thoughts on the spy to the Chicago Tribune:

    "You hear this stuff about somebody needs to spy Vick...We didn't do any of that. We just played our defense. Superman can be stopped."

    Vick may not have been "stopped." But he wasn't as overpowering as he had been against the Redskins or against some other teams.

    And that approach might not work with other teams, teams who don't have Julius Peppers or Brian Urlacher. But the blanket absence of a spy does make sense.

    Assigning one player to Michael Vick doesn't negate his presence on the field. It's not a "tag, you're out" scenario.

    Just because someone is assigned to him doesn't mean Vick won't run for 100 yards. Vick has made a career out of eluding tacklers, even those with great speed.

    So rather than commit one-eleventh of their offense to the POSSIBILITY of stopping Vick, the Bears simply tried to defend the entire Eagle offense.

    And it worked. For at least one afternoon.

No. 1: No, A Fluke Interception and an Ailing Philly Secondary

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    Vick's first interception of the season was the result of a ball tipped at the line of scrimmage.

    Certainly, it still counts as an interception. And if you look at the play, there's a good chance it would have been picked off even if it hadn't been tipped.

    There were three defenders surrounding the intended receiver.

    But because it was the first interception of the season, after 211 attempts, it seemed a bigger deal than it really was.

    The same goes for the end to another unblemished Vick-2010 stat: the Eagles had never lost a game in which Vick started and finished.

    But that loss is hard to pin solely to Vick. Without their best defensive back (maybe their best defender) Asante Samuel, and Ellis Hobbs, their other starting corner, the Eagle defense really struggled.

    Jay Cutler had one of the best games of his career.

    If the Eagles win, and Vick doesn't throw that interception but has virtually the exact same game, the question of Vick "becoming human" wouldn't be asked nearly as much this week.

No. 1: Yes, The Answer was Discovered Back in Week 4

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    In 2010, the best solution to containing Michael Vick has been to keep him on the sidelines in street clothes.

    That's how the Redskins defeated the Eagles in Week 4. That's how the 49ers hung with the Eagles a week later, and that's how the Titans blew past Philadelphia in the fourth quarter of their Week 7 contest.

    That's not an indictment of Kevin Kolb. He could turn out to be a very good NFL quarterback, either in an Eagles uniform or somewhere else.

    But right now, Vick gives them the best chance to win.

Analysis

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    The Eagles may not win Super Bowl XLV.

    They may not even win another game in 2010. Nothing is guaranteed.

    And Vick may throw 15 interceptions and only five touchdowns in the team's final five games. But through 11 games, it's clear that no team has been able to contain him.

    He hasn't played perfect: he's made plenty of mis-throws, he's fumbled a few times and he threw into triple coverage on the interception that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, so it probably would have been picked off any way.

    And as far as his dynamic, historic running goes, Vick hasn't broken the 100-yard mark since the Week 1 relief appearance against the Packers.

    But the Eagles' offense has never been as dynamic as it is right now.

    LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin probably deserve equal credit for that. But when Vick has wanted to run, more often than not, he has found room to do so.

    And when Vick has wanted to hit his receiver, more often than not, he has done so.

    It's going to take more than a 31-26 road loss in which he throws one interception, completes 29-of-44 attempts for 333 yards and two touchdowns (and still runs for 44 yards on nine attempts) to say that he was "contained" by a defense.