Vick doesn't believe he's holding onto the ball too long
The Eagles enter Sunday with the NFL's 28th-ranked red zone offense. (USA Today Images)
Michael Vick insists that the Eagles’ regressing offense isn’t because he holds onto the ball too long (see story). He’s right. The pass rush is on him so quickly sometimes it’s impossible for Vick to relax and wait for receivers to separate.
But Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense has really hit the skids since unleashing 31 points on the Redskins in the season’s first 31 minutes. The Eagles are still churning out offensive yards at a historic pace, but they're terrible in the red zone and inconsistent on manageable third-and-longs. Protection breakdown, penalties and drops are also co-conspirators to an offense that’s managed just four total touchdowns in the past two games.
Right now, teams are content to let LeSean McCoy run between the 20s and then dare the NFL’s 28th-ranked red zone offense to make a play near the end zone. They’re playing man coverage on the outsides and attacking with pressure up front, abusing the struggling right side of the offensive line to quickly pressure Vick.
Separation at wide receiver has become a problem. DeSean Jackson is being heavily guarded, and Riley Cooper, Jason Avant and Brent Celek are either struggling to get open or just dropping the ball when they do. In the red zone, Jackson’s lack of size and physicality really impedes the offense. In several ways the Eagles miss Jeremy Maclin, although strangely, only Giants wideout Hakeem Nicks seems willing to acknowledge this (see story).
But the quarterback has to accept some blame here. The beauty of man coverage is that receivers always have the first step. A good lead pass or timed pattern can beat tight man, but that’s not Vick’s strongest point. He’s been plagued in the past by forced throws and turnovers and lacks the faith that his receivers can go and get the ball versus the alternative, an interception. When the blitz comes, Vick isn’t waiting to tuck and run.
For the offense to rediscover its explosion, Vick needs a comfortable pocket. Todd Herremans needs shake off the right guard rust and rookie right tackle Lane Johnson needs to grow up quickly. Teams are taking aim at both, capitalizing on Johnson’s inexperience and Herremans’ technique breakdowns.
When protected, Vick throws as nice of a pass as anyone in the league and his receivers have time to free up. When the pocket isn’t clean, the offense is totally out of rhythm and far more one-dimensional.
What can Kelly do?
For starters, it might be time for more “12 personnel,” which entails two tight ends and two wideouts instead of the three-wide, one-tight “11 personnel” the Eagles have relied on heavily to force opponents to counter with nickel personnel.
By going to the 12 personnel, the Giants would probably counter with their base 4-3 defense, but they’re so decimated and weak at linebacker that base defense is probably less effective for them. They just traded for aging, injury-prone Jon Beason, who was demoted in Carolina in favor of Chase Blackburn, who was actually with the Giants last season but wasn’t kept.
Going to 12 might mean less production from McCoy but more from tight ends in the passing game. Zach Ertz has looked good when he’s in there and James Casey is itching to get on the field. Either of those two combined with Celek is a positive matchup against Mark Herzlich or Keith Rivers.
The Giants’ best chance to win is by generating a consistent pass rush. Otherwise, they’re a mess and a M.A.S.H unit. They already lost linebacker Dan Connor for the year, along with safety Stevie Brown, their top playmaker in the secondary from last year.
Defensive tackles Linval Joseph, Cullen Jenkins and Shaun Rogers each missed practice time this week, along with Herzlich and their three top cornerbacks (Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas and Aaron Ross).
Stunningly, the Giants are tied with the Steelers for the NFL’s fewest sacks (four), but that’s slightly deceiving. They’ve played mobile quarterbacks the past two weeks in Alex Smith and Cam Newton and faced Peyton Manning in Week 2.
Sure, they’re much less potent up front without McCoy’s favorite sparring partner, Osi Umenyiora, but the defensive line is still their strongest and deepest asset. They’ll go seven deep up front, rotate frequently and have a good mix of pass rushers and run defenders.
Jason Pierre-Paul is coming off back surgery and looks it. He’s still a powerful presence but his energy level fades quickly. Justin Tuck still plays hard, gives great effort and moves inside on nickel downs, but his best days are behind him. He’s just an OK pass rusher right now. Joseph, a 2010 second-rounder, is finally emerging into a nice dual-threat interior lineman who’s stout against the run and has a quick first step to the quarterback.
Look for the Giants to give more snaps to rookie Damontre Moore, who was once considered a first-round pick after recording 26.5 sacks in three seasons at Texas A&M but tumbled to the third round. Mel Kiper Jr. once had Moore rated as a top-three prospect but the former Aggie’s combine performances and measurables left much to be desired. A shoulder injury slowed him early on this season. Second-round defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins, a massive, 330-pound three technique, should also see his first action if Joseph, Jenkins or Rogers can’t go.
The Giants have used a five-man defensive line at times to slow down the run, showing a 5-2-4 look. That would be a risky defense to throw at the Eagles, who have run-pass options on several plays. If he can get up-front protection, Vick could have a field day against that formation.
For the scouting report on the Eagles' defense vs. the Giants' offense, click here.