Michael Vick and a Breakdown of How the Giants Contained Him

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The rapid maturation of Michael Vick as a pass-first quarterback is still a fact that many NFL defensive coordinators find debatable (though the facts speak to the contrary). This tends to show up in their game-plans as they employ tactic after tactic that are as numerous as they are creative in slowing what they still perceive to be Mr. Vick’s number one asset: his running ability.

The Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell showed this approach of defending against running-Vick before passing-Vick is alive and well last Sunday when the two NFC East powerhouses met. And while the Giants lost the game decisively, 27-17, it wasn’t the incomparable Vick who decided the matter. Rather on this occasion the difference was superb play from Philadelphia’s defense and the Giants doing everything possible to shoot themselves in the foot.

Unusual alignments, unusual assignments

The Giants seemed intent on disrupting Vick’s natural desire to rollout to his left (a basic strategy that terrorized the Redskins last week). Being a left-handed quarterback, obviously Vick is more capable of throwing on the run when he rolls left because he doesn’t have to reopen-up his body.

Knowing this, the Giants were determined to do anything necessary to force him to either stay in the pocket or scramble right (where he’s a much less effective passer). Of course, setting this as a goal is much different from actually accomplishing it. Yet the Giants employed some interesting techniques.

In the above picture (3rd and 9 at the Eagles own 31), the top half of the screen looks like a normal defensive alignment for the Giants (with defensive back Deon Grant on the very top and linemen Justin Tuck and Barry Cofield on the interior).

However, the bottom part of the picture for the Giant defensive line is very unusual. While Jason Pierre-Paul (with the blue dot over his head) is set between the Eagles guard and tackle, the fourth defensive linemen, Osi Umenyiora (with the yellow dot over his head), is lined up outside of nickel back Aaron Ross (with the red dot over his head).

This is an extremely rare alignment, as the defensive end is almost never lined up farther wide than the defensive backs. It seems counterintuitive, as the end isn’t positioned very well to rush the quarterback quickly, but it makes sense when considering the Giants goal of keeping Vick from rolling out to that side.

At the snap of the ball, Osi didn’t make a beeline for Vick (which is his traditional strategy). Instead, he ran a wide circle around the pocket and, with the help of Pierre-Paul, tried to corral Vick out to Vick’s right. Yet, as is so true against Mike Vick, the Giants still surrendered a first down on the play as Vick simply stayed in the pocket and made a good read and throw.

Limiting the damage, the good and the bad

Yet while they were giving up yardage, the Giants managed to avoid giving up big plays until the very end of the game (when their hand was slightly forced by the fact that they were losing in the fourth quarter). There were no 80 yard touchdowns like what the Eagles got against Washington.

Containing Mike Vick and his many playmakers is a tall order, but New York executed well on the defensive side of the ball. Even when the offense continually turned the ball over in the second quarter, the Giants gave up only two field goals and blocked a third (a contentious issue since Corey Webster was blatantly pulled out of bounds by his facemask. This should have allowed for a field goal since time cannot expire on a penalty.)

New York also held Vick and the Philadelphia offense to a 3-14 success rate on third down, an achievement considering the many options the Eagles have. A good example of this came in the 2nd quarter on a 3rd and 1.

On the play, Eagles coach Andy Reid made a curious decision to roll Vick out to his right (the Giants’ left) which, as has already been shown, is a weak side for his passing game (he only has a 53% completion percentage to his right compared to a 67% percentage to his left).

Giants defensive end Justin Tuck (shown by the yellow dot) did an excellent job of getting off his block and getting to the edge, negating Vick from completing the bootleg and picking up the first down with his legs. Safety Kenny Phillips (shown with the red dot in coverage) did a great job of initially pressing Jeremy Maclin and disrupting his route, meaning that Vick couldn’t get rid of the ball quickly without throwing dangerously back across the field.

Tuck was successful because he stayed disciplined and didn’t get lulled back inside (he can be seen in the picture leaning correctly outside). Vick, seeing this, tried in vain to cut back in the middle but the Giants were waiting and Tuck picked up a sack, denying the Eagles the first down.

However, the Giants failed on the Eagles earlier touchdown (where Vick rushed for a four yard score). The play is shown below, where linebacker Michael Boley didn’t stay disciplined in his outside containment duty.

In this 2nd and goal situation, New York called the perfect defense. Bump and run man coverage with two players (safety Antrel Rolle and linebacker Michael Boley) spying Vick (meaning that they track him to keep him from running outside). Boley (circled in yellow) actually did a fine job in the first half of the play by getting off the block of Eagles tight end Brent Celek. He’s perfectly placed to do what Tuck did and force Vick back inside where the Giants are waiting for him.

However unlike Tuck, Boley got lulled inside and can be seen in the photo leaning inside. Vick, seeing this like a kid in a candy store, gleefully cuts back outside where he inevitably got around the corner and dashed for the endzone.

So the Giants had a solid game-plan for Mike Vick and actually did as good a job in executing it as any team this year. However, momentary lapses can result in catastrophe (as Boley found out). And the Giants offense’s incessant turnovers proved to be the backbreaker.

Philadelphia returns to play New York in the Meadowlands on December 19th and the Giants will have a second chance to beat the soaring Eagles. In the meantime, they turn their attention to Jacksonville, Washington and Minnesota (all winnable games if they avoid turnovers). They’ve laid down a blueprint to beat Mike Vick, now they just need to stop beating themselves.

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