Using NFL.com's New Coaches Film Feature to Evaluate the Vick vs. Ray Lewis Matchup

Using NFL.com's New Coaches Film Feature to Evaluate the Vick vs. Ray Lewis Matchup

As some of you may have heard, for the first time ever NFL.com has made the coaches film available to any fan willing to pony up $70 for a Game Rewind package. What sets this apart from a traditional broadcast is it reveals what all 22 players on the field are doing during any given play, thus the nickname All-22.

I had an opportunity to play around with the new feature for a few days after the Cowboys-Giants game, but it really opened up my eyes when the All-22 of Eagles-Browns became available for viewing on Wednesday. Going into the review with a sense of purpose changed the way I watched, and before long I was seeing much, much more than I ever could on Sunday.

We'll dive into the main subject matter of this post shortly, but first I wanted to talk about something you didn't see at home, probably couldn't even read about many places.

Michael Vick did not have a very good day in Cleveland, that much is unanimous. Andy Reid took some heat as well over the pass-run ratio -- from myself included -- and while it still was not entirely excusable, a bit of reflection convinced me penalties coupled with so many unfavorable down and distances contributed to the lopsided figure. Having said that, it was difficult to reconcile with the play calling after watching this.

Let's preface this tangent by reminding everybody that Cleveland owned the second-ranked pass defense in the NFL last season. It was not merely constant air raids that were the problem though, but where many of the attacks were targeted -- vertically.

The Browns were determined not to get beat deep from the opening moments, and the further the Eagles needed to go to reach the sticks, the deeper the coverage dropped. The Birds utilized a healthy portion of quick-hitting routes throughout the day, yet all too often three receivers would be racing downfield on the very next snap. On a handful of plays, Vick would drop back behind a max-protect look with just two primary receivers running into the opponent's secondary. You'll see an example of what we mean below.

The defense was prepared for and all too happy to get these looks. Even when the routes had time to develop, the targets were not open, and Vick typically fled the pocket rather than finding the checkdown for what occasionally may have been a nice gain.

Reid told reporters afterwards he believed they saw something Vick could exploit in the passing game, perhaps being related to Cleveland sending an array of defensive back blitzes. However, coverage was generally solid all around, and the Browns showed little intention of letting DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin wander down the field unattended.

The play calling clearly contributed to Vick's rough afternoon by setting him up to fail, but that doesn't explain away such a wretched performance, either. With the All-22 at our disposal, I wanted to take a closer look at the interceptions and figure out what the QB might have been thinking on a few of them.

Of the four picks Vick lobbed on Sunday, the two that looked the worst were the balls he appeared to force into double coverage. No. 1 simply was a foolish decision to throw across his body, and No. 3 was just a tad off the mark. Nos. 2 and 4 on the other hand were largely considered terrible reads, which is the bigger concern with Vick at this stage of his career.

Give credit where credit is due though. Browns middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson actually made a pair of outstanding plays. On both turnovers, Jackson read the quarterback, reacted quickly, then had the athleticism to beat the passes to their intended receivers. Here's a photo breakdown of each.

VICK INTERCEPTION NO. 2

The Eagles are going to run a play-fake to McCoy, who will break into his route immediately. Celek stays home, so this will be a six-man protection against a standard four-man rush. Cleveland has almost twice as many men in coverage (7) than the Eagles have receivers (4).

Jackson shadows McCoy for a moment, but sees the back is picked up by the outside linebacker. Now 52 turns his attention to the backfield.

At the bottom left-hand corner, you see DeSean running up the seam. The Browns have him bracketed by a corner trailing and a safety deep over the top.

Vick moves on to his next progression. While he is wearing his traditional visor, and Jackson shouldn't be able to read his eyes, notice how the quarterback turned his head and the rest of his body. Watching this subtle change, the linebacker is aware Clay Harbor is making his break as soon as Vick sees it.

Jackson races to his right as Harbor is coming back to the quarterback. Vick
takes an extra step as he sets up to throw, which is going to wind up costing him. If
the ball comes out immediately, he may be able to squeeze it in there,
but that split second of hesitation allows 52 to step in front of the
pass. The ball is deflected into the air, and snared by an outside
linebacker who was camping in the area.

It was a good read by the middle linebacker, aided by slight hesitation on Vick's part. Harbor beat his man, but it seems like the only way the pass was going to fit inside of that window was if the quarterback had anticipated the route better or released the ball quicker. For what it's worth, a shot of the entire field shows us Vick may have had an open receiver at the top of the screen, or a one-on-one at the very least, but never appeared to look in that direction.

VICK INTERCEPTION NO. 4

This time the Eagles are going to run a double play-action, faking right to Havili, then left to McCoy. Celek and Havili stay in for extra protection, and McCoy sets up like he's going to block before bouncing into the flat, essentially making this a two-man route. Even with one of the outside linebackers playing aggressively at the line of scrimmage, the coverage is stacked against the Birds.

52 respects the run, but doesn't get sucked into the line of scrimmage or away from the middle.

As soon as Vick looks to his right, Jackson immediately whips around and identifies what the quarterback is looking at.

Jackson turned his back on the quarterback and started running. When
he sees Maclin begin to flash across the middle, he knew he was at the spot.
Jackson covers almost 10 yards of ground before the ball is even out of the quarterback's hand. When he turns around, the ball is heading right for him. Jackson takes this one himself and runs it back for six points.

Here's a better view of the two-man route we've been talking about. Note that a safety is out of view at the top of the screen, so DeSean actually is not running free down the sideline.

This play may have been even more impressive than the last from a defensive standpoint. Vick didn't seem to see the linebacker, which is troubling, or maybe he just thought Jackson wouldn't turn around then make such a spectacular play on the ball. Either way, this one almost proved costly.

RAY LEWIS IN COVERAGE

This week it will be Canton-bound Ray Lewis patrolling the middle of the field, and we've all seen him make a big play or two over his 17-year NFL career. Geoff Mosher had a good story today about Lewis dropping weight over the offseason in anticipation of being utilized more in coverage this season. With his AFC North counterpart experiencing so much success against Vick, we thought we would take a closer look at how the Super Bowl XXXV MVP in Baltimore's Monday night victory versus Cincinnati

Lewis was only challenged a handful of times throughout the course of the action, but he didn't come up with nearly the kinds of big plays Jackson did. In fact, in similar situations where Lewis was in zone and the Bengals ran intermediate routes in the area, he was a step behind.

PLAY #1

Here we have what was a fairly common alignment for the Baltimore defense. Cincinnati is an I-formation with twin receivers to the left.

The Bengals go play-action, which Lewis recognizes, but the interior linebacker to his right takes a couple of false steps toward the line. The receiver is already about to be deeper than both of them.

Lewis reacts and hustles downfield, but with A.J. Green in the slot, it's too late, and the Ravens are beat for a gain of 19. The Eagles surely have something like this in their playbook.

PLAY #2

A true 3-4 look from Baltimore here. The tight end on the far right of the screen is going to run a post toward 52 to the end zone.

Play-action freezes Lewis ever so briefly, and the tight end is now just about even with him as he gets set to break for the inside.

The ball hits the target right in the hands, past 52's outstretched finger tips, although the receiver doesn't hold on. Could have been six right there.

One thing is for sure, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had to fit the ball into some tight windows. Regardless of whether or not Ray Lewis may be showing his age a bit in coverage, or these are isolated instances from a small sample size, for Vick to exploit a player of that caliber, he'll need to be much sharper this Sunday.

Last night's Union game against Orlando was pretty crazy

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Last night's Union game against Orlando was pretty crazy

When the Union played in Orlando last year, the game was a relatively dull scoreless draw.

And for most of Wednesday’s game between the two teams in the same venue, it looked like history was going to repeat itself.

That’s when the Kaká hit the fan.

Here’s a quick recap of all the craziness that happened in the second half of the if-you-turned-away-you-probably-missed-something2-2 draw:

  • Tranquillo Barnetta, inspired by a story I wrote about him a day earlier, scored his second goal this season -- both of which have come against Orlando

  • Warren Creavalle was taken down from behind in the box but no penalty kick was given and no red card was shown, leading head coach Jim Curtin to call the sequence “embarrassing”

  • Orlando City responded with two rapid-fire semi-controversial goals, scoring the first after Philly goalie Andre Blake was wiped out and the second on a shot Blake appeared to make the save on but the ref ruled was in (where’s goal-line technology when you need it??)

  • Ken Tribbett, the pride of Drexel, scored his first MLS goal after early collecting his first MLS assist -- after only being called into the game because of an injury to Josh Yaro

  • Orlando’s David Mateos was shown a straight red card in the final minute but Barnetta couldn’t convert a close-range free kick to win it

  • Fabinho killed a guy with a trident

To think all but one of those things happened in one half is pretty wild -- and that doesn’t even factor in several other cards, calls, no-calls and a pretty cool set piece the Union ran.


Oh, and almost lost in all the commotion, was the fact that Andre Blake gave us another memorable moment in a season full of them when he saved a first-half penalty kick from freaking Kaká.


In the end, Curtin couldn’t get over some of the refereeing decisions, particularly the no-call on Creavalle -- which, as you can see, was in fact quite bad.


Still, the fact that the Union escaped a tough place like Orlando despite the ref and while playing without three of their top playmakers (Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueria and Ilsinho) is quite a nice achievement that you would never have seen with past Philly teams.

It also moved their unbeaten streak to six heading into Saturday’s showdown between the first-place team in the East (your Philadelphia Union) and the first-place team in the West (the Colorado Rapids) -- who you might recall were two of the worst teams in MLS last season.

See ya in the rockies.

Opportunity with Eagles, talk with Le'Veon Bell has Kenjon Barner hungry

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Opportunity with Eagles, talk with Le'Veon Bell has Kenjon Barner hungry

Kenjon Barner is hungry, literally and figuratively.

After spending 2014 on the Eagles' practice squad and getting just 37 offensive touches in a crowded backfield last season, the running back is looking to carve out a bigger role with the Birds in 2016. DeMarco Murray is gone, and with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles away from the team earlier this week at practice, it was Barner getting the first-team reps. 

Mathews missed Tuesday's practice with an illness, and Sproles hasn't reported to the Eagles' voluntary workouts, which become mandatory from June 7-9.

So Barner, the 27-year-old RB Chip Kelly coached in college and traded for prior to the 2014 season, has had some opportunities to impress new head coach Doug Pederson. And Barner wants to make clear that despite his Oregon ties — he's one of three remaining players from Oregon that Kelly brought to the Eagles, along with Josh Huff and Taylor Hart — he's not only here because of the coach he outlasted.

"It's a great opportunity," Barner said, "just a fresh start. Go out there and continue to show what you can do, continue to make plays and constantly have your name in the coaches' minds.

"For anybody who says, 'Oh, that's Chip Kelly's guy,' no, I'm a football player. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't a football player. I wouldn't have gotten drafted if I wasn't a football player.

"It's not a chip on my shoulder. Yes I went to Oregon, yes I played under Chip, I love Chip to death, but I'm a football player. I create my own lane. I'm not gonna let anybody place me in a box and tell me what I am."

At 5-9/195, Barner doesn't fit perfectly into the box of a classic bell cow back. He's more of a Sproles-lite, a shifty back who can catch passes out of the backfield. He showed that last preseason, when he rushed 13 times for 91 yards and a touchdown and also caught four passes for 72 yards, including a 50-yarder.

That kind of backfield versatility is necessary in the offense Pederson brings over from the Chiefs, the offense Andy Reid ran for many years here. In Kansas City, Pederson and Reid utilized their running backs often in the passing game, just as they did with the Eagles. Even when Jamaal Charles went down for the year after five games last season, that trend continued with Charcandrick West catching 20 passes and DeAnthony Thomas getting some grabs out of the backfield.

"I fit whatever role they want me to fit," Barner said. "Whether it's catching balls out of the backfield or whatever it is. Jamaal Charles is a great back and if I can do half of what he's done throughout his career I'd be lucky."

Barner has patiently waited three years for this kind of opportunity. Mathews and Sproles are expected to be the Eagles' top-two ball-carriers, but both are getting older and neither is an every-down back, Mathews because of all the injuries and Sproles because he's more of a situational matchup nightmare. So even with the addition of fifth-round pick Wendell Smallwood, there should be some opportunities for Barner, who has done all he can to further his own development.

"Just older, more mature, more professional than I've been in the past," Barner said. "Understanding the offense, really going home and studying, really knowing what my responsibility is.

"For me, man, it's just about being mature, growing. I feel like if you're not growing, what are you doing? You constantly have to grow, have to evolve, not only physically but mentally. That's kind of where I'm at.

"I did take it seriously last year, but having the opportunity to go through what I've been through, go home and be with my family, have guys like (Chris) Maragos, I talk to him on a daily basis about football, about life. Sproles constantly being in my ear still — he may not be here but he's still in my ear. It's a lot of things coming together."

One change Barner made this offseason was to his diet. It came from a conversation with the NFL's best all-around running back, Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell.

"I had a talk with Le'Veon Bell back in January," Barner said. "I spoke with him and we were just talking about eating. I'm the type of guy that if I see somebody and I see a change in them and I see it's positive, I have no problem telling you, 'I like what you're doing, tell me how you did it.' I reached out to him because I've been seeing pictures of him and I've seen his body change. We came in the draft together and he's always been a big guy, but he hasn't been that cut, that ripped. So I reached out to him like, 'Yo, what did you do, what's your diet, what have you been taking, what are you doing and what are you not doing?' Just really trying to pick his brain. 

"I'm trying to be great. And if I see you doing something that's pushing you to the next level I'm gonna ask you how you did it. 

"I'm not gonna say I've been perfect. I'm just really big on sweets, I have a sweet tooth like no other and I can thank my dad for that — growing up he always had candy and snacks by his bed so I would always sneak in his room and eat them. That's the hardest thing, that's like my kryptonite."

Sweets weren't a part of the Chip Kelly regimen, that's for sure. But with the coach who brought Barner to the Eagles now in San Francisco, it's more on the players to keep themselves on track, both in the kitchen and with their sleep schedule.

"It's different, a lot slower, obviously," Barner said of practices under Pederson. "Is that good? I mean, you don't get as tired. But you're not in as good of shape as you were in Chip's offense. Chip's offense, you have to be in tip-top shape. So we're still getting there, still certain times when we're tired, times when you shouldn't be tired. So you have to do a lot of the conditioning on your own outside of here.

"Today, [Pederson] asked us who's getting eight hours of sleep. Everybody cares about it because you want your players to be at their best and you can't be at your best if you're not getting enough sleep, (but they're) two completely different people."

Let the bidding begin for Mike Trout, whom Angels must move at some point

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Let the bidding begin for Mike Trout, whom Angels must move at some point

Yes, the Angels are going to trade Mike Trout.

It may not happen this year or even next year, but eventually Angels GM Billy Eppler will accept the reality of the bleak future ahead for his franchise. Albert Pujols, who has five years and $140 million remaining on his contract after this season, has taken the baton from Ryan Howard for the worst contract in baseball. Good luck getting out of that deal. Other than the increasingly rare Pujols hot streak, they have nobody equipped to protect Trout in the lineup. 

The starting rotation has been patched together, with both Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney going down with elbow injuries early this season. Unless one of those guys comes back healthy, there isn’t a No. 1 or No. 2 starter on the roster. Theoretically, the Angels will have money to spend on the free-agent market with both C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver coming off the books after the season. But with Andrew Cashner and Jeremy Hellickson the likely headliners on the pitching market, a quick fix for the rotation seems unlikely. 

The 2017 free-agent market for hitters isn’t much better. Should Yoenis Cespedes opt out of his contract with the Mets, he could provide a potent presence behind Trout, but there will be stiff competition for his services and he’ll be in line for a massive payday. 

Toronto’s once-dynamic duo of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista should be available, but both appear to be trending downward. Giving either player a long-term deal is a risky investment at best. 

Building around the young players in the organization isn’t a viable option. By all accounts, the Angels have the worst farm system in baseball. You can check out those rankings here or here. This is a franchise in dire need of an infusion of young talent. 

We’ve seen the Phillies in a similar situation with Cole Hamels. Once there was no way forward to win with him, the only reasonable option was to trade him. Even the most ardent Hamels supporters have to admit now that moving him made sense.  

Yes, Trout is only 24 years old and is the best all-around player in baseball. The Angels should certainly explore every possible option to build a winner around the South Jersey native, who is in the second season of a six-year deal that will pay him $119 million from 2017 through 2020. But the franchise is trending in the wrong direction. If they cannot honestly see a path to contending with him, they should look to move him and jump-start a rebuild. There will be no shortage of suitors. 

So ignore the notion that you never trade an “inner-circle Hall of Famer,” which Trout certainly is on track to become. He is signed through 2019 and the clock is ticking. 

Let the bidding begin.