Michael Vick Is Slower, And Other All-22 Nuggets

Yesterday I talked about the Eagles defense against the Cardinals (and specifically Larry Fitzgerald). Today, let's look at a few other odds and ends from that game.

First up: Michael Vick has lost a step or two. The other day I went back and watched some tape from his glorious 2010 resurrection season. A year after coming back from prison, the athletic wonder looked as fast as ever. His stop-starts baffled defenders and his top speed rivaled most any player in the league, at least to my eyes. Whether he was still at the sub-4.4 forty of his youth I can't say, but he looked close.

But that Vick isn't the one who took the field last Sunday. I highlighted multiple plays below where you can see that he just doesn't have the same speed. In the first play, Vick starts to scramble and has only one player to beat to the edge. 2010 Vick almost certainly would have gotten the first down here. Instead, (4.66-forty) linebacker Daryl Washington chased him out of bounds after a gain of just a few yards:

Below is the second play, Vick's 20 yard scramble in the closing minute of the first half. He splits two defenders and has acres of space in front of him. 2010 Vick might have scored on this play, or at least forced a goal line tackle by one of the deep defensive backs. 2012 Vick was chased down from behind — again by the linebacker Washington:

Vick is still plenty athletic. He's easily faster than 95 percent of quarterbacks in the NFL. But he's lost that extra dimension of speed that used to help him escape a few more rushers and shoot by a few more would-be tacklers. His escape ability is noteworthy, but we may not be able to classify it as "dangerous" any more. That's obviously not a positive development.

In other news, I have one theory as to why Andy Reid only called five run plays in the first half (other than his usual reluctance): he trusted the makeshift offensive line even less to run block than to pass block. Below, I put a diagram of the Eagles first run play. It went for no gain because all three defenders circled in red beat their blocks. Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis, and Danny Watkins were the culprits:

On the other side, I really liked the play below. The Cardinals were showing blitz by the cornerback in the slot — so much so that they actually leave Jason Avant uncovered initially. One solution to this obvious blitz would be to throw a quick route to Avant, but the Eagles (by luck?) called something just as good. McCoy ran the ball off tackle to that side, and both Brent Celek and Avant blocked down hard, giving McCoy lots of room and netting an easy nine yards. It was also just fun to see Celek cream the cornerback:

Finally, I want to highlight two plays by defensive tackle Cedric Thornton. With Fletcher Cox sidelined for part of the game with a migraine, Thornton got plenty of snaps. He's still an inconsistent player, but by far his best move is that powerful bull rush. On the first play, he pushed the guard right back into the quarterback's face as Brandon Graham beat his blocker off the edge.  On the second, Thornton's bull rush busted up a run that was supposed to go through the middle. Well done.

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Defensive Tackle

Mike Patterson

What the Eagles did: Around the end of January, I started to get the feeling that, other than linebacker, defensive line made the most sense for the Eagles in the first round. Then, as Derek Landri lingered in free agency longer than we expected and the team held a private workout with Fletcher Cox (in tandem with the Dontari Poe parade), the hints were getting stronger and stronger.

Still, I’m not sure any Eagles fan, even the most optimistic Cox supporter, necessarily expected the Eagles to snag a player who was instantly hailed as a perfect fit in Jim Washburn’s system. There aren’t many defensive tackles with Cox’s combination of size, speed, and production. With any luck Washburn can make him into a dominating force like Albert Haynesworth was. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

As to the rest of the group, let me once again put up the pass rushing stats from last year:

2011 Eagles Defensive Tackles

Unsurprisingly, Trevor Laws was let go. Although he had his moments last year, overall the former second round pick was a major disappointment. I suppose he has the excuse of having played for three different defensive coordinators and three other defensive line coaches during his four year tenure, if you want to throw him that bone.

Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins will be the starters. Both are solid veteran players, even if no one is likely to gameplan specifically for them. Jenkins’s 17 sacks over the least three seasons are near the top for all defensive tackles and while Patterson has generally been more of a run stuffer, you see above that Washburn made him the 17th most effective pass rusher in the league from that spot last year. Again, Cox’s ceiling is much higher, but until he’s ready these two are fine in the middle.

Just like with the defensive ends, the other backup spots at tackle are up in the air. Antonio Dixon probably has the inside track to the nose tackle job. He missed nearly all of last year, but signed a restricted free agent tender at the second round level. Derek Landri will certainly continue to make the most of his talents. He was tremendously productive in 2011, but got little interest in free agency. Then there’s Cedric Thornton, who spent most of last season on the team’s practice squad.

What I would have done: Howie Roseman on a roll. This position looks great.

Way-too-early prediction: Is it too optimistic to predict that Cox will start at least six games? Some combination of injury and ridiculous physical potential seem likely to make that happen. If not, he should at least make an immediate contribution in the rotation. As to the fourth spot, it must be Dixon’s to lose, given his youth and talent. Will be interesting to see if he can (a) show the spark he had in 2010, (b) adjust to Washburn’s scheme, and (c) be consistent — but I bet he’ll get every opportunity to do so. Landri’s probably fighting for the Eagles to keep five tackles as much as any specific other player.

Photo from Getty.