Thursday, December 09, 2010

Game Plan Friday: Defense vs Eagles


Andy Reid may not be the greatest in-game strategist in the history of the NFL, but there is no question he understands the concepts of offense about as well as anyone in the business. With help from his offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, they have done something I thought was not going to be easy. They have exchanged Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook, two anchors of the Eagles offense for younger and maybe even more explosive parts in Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy and have not seemed to miss a single beat.

Last season, we marveled at the ability of the Eagles offense to find huge chunks of yards down the field and yet not turn the ball over very much. Why, I asked, would you trade Donovan McNabb away when the offense seemed to be better unit on this team? Who takes their "franchise QB" out with the trash?

It seemed extremely arrogant and destined to bite them in the rear end. On October 3, it did not look very good as McNabb and the Redskins rolled into Philadelphia and left with a big road win at the hands of the bitter Eagles.

But, since that day, the Eagles have rolled off a 6-2 record and things have all come together as we have seen the resurrection of the career of one of the lightning rods of pro football since nearly the day he arrived, Michael Vick.

Until a QB who plays the run/pass/run/pass style of Vick actually wins a Super Bowl, it will still be difficult to argue that the game has truly changed from the traditional "Pocket Passer". In fact, with the additions of things like spread offense and other passing advances, you can make the case that football is now - more than ever - looking for the 6'4 statue in the pocket who can sling the ball from sideline to sideline and mobility will only be a bonus.

Look at the Super Bowl Champions since 2000: Tom Brady, Brad Johnson, Brady, Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees. Of that group, the only player that even sort of resembles the "multi-dimensional" QB that Michael Vick is and that Vince Young and Tim Tebow have had us dreaming of. Cam Newton is the next, and we all wonder if they can ever do more than populate highlight films and make the playoffs. Can the guy who is at his best when everything breaks down and can throw it or run it for 40 yards ever win the whole thing like Vince Young did in college?

It will never be fully believed until it is done.

Meanwhile, how great has Vick been this year? Well, there is no comparison to the player he was for his first many years in Atlanta. There, he was good - and sometimes better than good - but never to the point where you thought he was as good as he could be.

But, now, is being coached better? Or did something click in his head while he sat in a prison cell that if he worked a bit harder, perhaps he could be so much better?

I have no idea. But, the numbers do not lie. He is not only better than he was - he is amazingly better. He is all he was dreamed of being capable of when he was picked #1 overall. He, at the age of 30, has finally figured it out.

YearStartsComp %Yd/AttTD %Int %Pass Rating

HTML Tables

Is this a flash in the pan? Is this 9 games that will equalize over time? We will find out soon enough, and of course, he has the potential to be one of the most interesting free agent QBs to hit the market in a long, long time. Of course, assuming the "franchise tag" still exists, I cannot envision a scenario under which he ever does hit the open market.

Remember Kevin Kolb?


1) - Don't Blitz - Do you know which teams have more success than the Dallas Cowboys defense in blitzing? All of them. That's right. Every single team in the NFL has more success in blitzing situations than the Wade Phillips defense. Not sure how it happened, but they could not get there. My hunch is that those that he likes to blitz (his middle linebackers, generally) have lost a step and they simply cannot get there anymore. Opposing QBs pass for a rating of 111.85 against the Cowboys blitz, but 84.28 against the "league average" blitz (and 64.64 against the Eagles blitz). So, we have established that they cannot do it well. Now, consider trying to blitz Vick with a blitz that never gets there. Suicide. Imagine all 7 of your big defenders going too far north - beyond the ball. Now, Vick has only 4 defenders between him and the goalline - regardless of how far the endzone is, and they have their back turned chasing Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson down the field. Not sure I can spell it out any more clearly. If you do decide to blitz, you better not screw it up. They will barbecue you without breaking a sweat. Rush 4, try to get to the Vick release point, don't let him roll left, and have your LBs ready to get after him if he breaks contain. That is your only hope.

2) - Don't Allow McCoy His Space - In the 2009 Draft (you remember, the one in which the Cowboys got pretty much nothing?), the Philadelphia Eagles picked #19 and took WR Jeremy Maclin one pick before the Cowboys selection that was traded to Detroit. In the 2nd Round, the Cowboys had pick #51, but traded back with Buffalo for the rights to the picks of Robert Brewster (Practice Squad) and Victor Bulter. At pick #53, the Eagles grabbed the successor to Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy from Pitt. As of right now, only 5 backs have more yards from scrimmage than McCoy's 1,357 (Foster, Charles, Peterson, Jones-Drew, and Hillis) as he hurts opponents on the ground and through the air. He gets over 110 yards from scrimmage and has a surprising ability to spring for some decent "big runs". In fact, the Eagles are tied for 2nd in the NFL with 52 10+ yard runs (the league average is 36, the Cowboys have 28), so this is not a team that is merely an aerial show. So, while you spend your whole week planning for Vick, if you sleep on McCoy, he will hurt you. I imagine it is that template that the Cowboys see Felix Jones as, where he may never be a 1,200 guy on the ground, but perhaps he can be 900 on the ground and 600 in the air? They hope so.

3) - Turn the Ball Over - Who would have thought the Cowboys could play on the road and go "+4" against the Indianapolis Colts, right? Amazing. What is more amazing is the 5 giveaways/11 takeaways in the Jason Garrett era that has the Cowboys +6 under his command. Heck, they are almost all the way back to even for the season after being -9 at the time of the coaching change. Meanwhile, the Eagles are a league-best +15. How important are turnovers to the winning and losing of teams in the NFL? Well, here is your top 5: Eagles +15, Patriots +14, Steelers +11, Falcons, +10, and Buccaneers +9. Yes, I think turnovers make or break you, and so do the standings. The Eagles take the ball away constantly with 28 on the season and the Cowboys will have to be careful, but more importantly, if they are to win, they really need to get Vick and the Eagles to cough it up more than they have. Looks like Paul Pasqualoni has the defense thinking takeaway, which is a real nice change of pace around here.

Cowboys TurnoversOpponents Turnovers
GameFumbles LostINTSGiveawaysFumbles RecINTSTakeaways+/-
L @ Wash101000-1
L vs Chi1230 00-3
W @ Hou0001 23+3
L vs Ten033000-3
L @ Min022101-1
L vs NYG202235+3
L vs Jack044101-3
L @ GB224000-4
W @ NYG011123+2
W vs Det101112+1
L vs NO213112-1
W @ Ind000044+4

Table Tutorial

4) - Quite Simply: Cover - As everyone in the league now knows, the Eagles have finally found some play-making Wide Receivers in the '08 and '09 drafts. Jackson and Maclin now stretch your safeties out, making things manageable for your slot receiver, TE-Celek, and RB-McCoy underneath, and of course, your QB when he wants to run the ball. Basically, what needs to happen to have a chance against the Eagles for anyone to have success is that your DBs have to cover. There is no way to scheme things to cover for poor defending. And, frankly, there have been times this season where the coverage has been soft and weak. But, coming off a week of 4 Interceptions, the DBs know what they must do. But, the key will be not to cut off coverage because you think the play is over. With Vick, the play isn't over until the whistle blows. Do not leave your man until you hear it. You leave a beat to early and Vick throws it for a free TD. Can't let that happen.

Please check out TC Fleming's piece where he deconstructs the Eagles attack through the air in great detail. Always good to read the wonderful work from Mr Fleming.

Summary: For the 3rd straight week, the Cowboys play an offense that is just absolutely staggering with its weapons. There is no doubt that they will require another top effort to withstand the barrage. This is where players must win their battles. Anthony Spencer must win the edge and expose a RT spot where Winston Justice may not be able to play with an injury. You may need the quickness and pace of Sean Lee far more than Keith Brooking when attempting to spy Vick. But, more than anything, they just need big plays to have a chance. Hopefully, they will feed some emotion and energy from the crowd at their home stadium - a place where they have never really established any sort of advantage. In fact, their "career record" at Cowboys Stadium is 8-7 (including the playoff win last year against the Eagles). That will have to drastically improve for the Cowboys to become a league power again.

Bob Sturm is host of BaD Radio on The Ticket 1310 AM Mondays through Fridays at 12-3 p.m. He also hosts The Ticket's Cowboys pregame show. Follow Bob on Twitter at Bob offers his exclusive analysis after games on

Read all of Bob's posts at this link:

No comments: