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.

How Not To Cover Larry Fitzgerald

There's a logical way to cover Larry Fitzgerald: in man coverage, with safety help. That's not what the Eagles did. Time to break down this down using the All-22 coaches film.

Let's start with the first three Cardinals pass plays, each of which went for a first down. In the first one, Fitzgerald lines up to the bottom. To call him a decoy would probably be generous. What we're really looking at is another classic example of "Putting Nnamdi Asomugha in a zone."

Pre-snap alignment. Asomugha (in red) to drop into zone.

With the Eagles in Cover 3, Nnamdi drops way back, leaving space open.

Next play. This time we're going to Fitzgerald. He's in the slot, opposite Boykin. The post route by the tight end inside of him is going to draw Mychal Kendricks and Nate Allen away, leaving a one-on-one matchup against the rookie corner.

Pre-snap alignment.

Easy pitch-and-catch. Then Fitz breaks Boykin's tackle attempt.

Two plays later: Fitzgerald is a decoy again. He comes across the formation pre-snap, pulling the linebackers to his side.

The tight end to the left runs a pick on Kendricks, leaving the RB open in the flat.

Later in the game, here's another time the Cardinals isolate Fitzgerald on Boykin:

Easy throw to the outside.

The Cardinals kept picking on Boykin, even when he didn't line up across from Fitzgerald:

Eagles are in Cover 2. Fitz runs a slant away from Nnamdi.

Nnamdi stays outside, Boykin drawn to slot receiver. Easy catch and run for Fitz.

To be fair to Boykin, I doubt Asomugha was supposed to let Fitzgerald run clean to the inside on that route. One of the things you notice with Asomugha is that he's rarely the cause of major coverage breakdowns. However, he doesn't seem particularly interested in working extra hard to cover up other defenders' mistakes either — whether it's on this play, where he doesn't even try to run inside to tackle Fitz, or on the touchdown catch (See Chris Brown's thorough examination of that one). Asomugha is a limited player these days, and sometimes it looks like he would rather make sure everyone knows it's not his fault than actually go 110% to make up for his own deficiencies.

In other, non-Fitzgerald news, it would be nice if the defense didn't miss tackles like it's 2011. Yes, I know this play was called back, but still:

1. DeMeco Ryans

2 & 3. Asomugha and Kurt Coleman

4. Allen

5. Kendricks

Go DRC! It's only a 79 yard gain.

More to come from the All-22 tomorrow.

Bowles Was Supposed To Be The Smart One

The offense deserves the brunt of criticism after this loss (and there will be more to come on that front), but I wanted to take a moment to recognize the greatest error in over-thinking and outsmarting yourself we have seen since Juan Castillo was named defensive coordinator. Take it away, Tim McManus:

“We came into the week, I was going to shadow [Larry Fitzgerald],” said Asomugha. “We kind of had an idea, I think Coach [Todd] Bowles had an idea that that’s what they were figuring, so they were going to move him and put him in all sorts of different places. So we said let’s just let’s just stay on our sides and make sure that Boykin is at the nickel, keep Dominique on the outside. That was our plan, and they were able to do some things to take advantage of it."

So, the only logical thing was to play Fitzgerald man-to-man with one or both of your top-flight corners. Instead, because that's what the Cardinals would expect, you do the exact opposite? This is the point where we note that Fitzgerald had 7 receptions for 105 yards and a TD in the first half, before the Eagles switched back to man coverage and he caught only 2 passes for 9 yards the rest of the way.

Please file this report under: "Why you lose football games."

Breaking Down The Goal Line Debacle

Over on Brian Burke's Advanced NFL Stats site, you can see the live win probability for the Eagles-Cardinals game. Right at the end of the half, the Eagles were already down 17-0, and things weren't looking great. But with their final drive, they had a chance to tighten the score before halftime. A touchdown, narrowing the lead to 10, would have been positive — raising the team's win probability to 20 percent (and with this explosive offense, that might be a low estimate).

Of course, we know that didn't happen. Instead, the Eagles tried three times to stick the ball in the end zone, only to give up a 95-yard fumble return for a touchdown instead. That  self-destructive 14 point swing cost the Eagles any chance they had of getting back into the game (probability: four percent). So what was the problem?

Michael Vick deserves some of the blame. If you replace him with Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady or Drew Brees, the Eagles probably score. But that's unfair. The play calling also wasn't perfect, but that wasn't the main issue either. The real culprit was the Eagles lack of red zone weapons. With only dwindling seconds to work with and no timeouts, the offense had to take their most effective option — the run — off the table. Everyone knew Vick had to throw, and the Eagles couldn't out-execute the Cardinals in the face of that knowledge.

Let me show you what I mean. Below is the first down play. Even though running is impossible, they line-up in the I-Formation to fake it. Vick's three receiving options are fullback Stanley Havili and two tiny wide receivers — Damaris Johnson and DeSean Jackson. Not exactly murderer's row.

Here are the routes pre-snap.

Here's what Vick sees when he first drops back. Not much there.

With DeSean covered, it's Havili or Johnson.

Havili looks open, but he's not in the end zone. If he gets tackled outside, you lose your shot. Inside, Johnson has broken free of his man, but there are multiple defenders in between him and Vick. Does he want to risk that pass? 

Vick almost throws to Johnson, pump-fakes instead.

Again, he had two options, but there were defenders in the way (and in his face). A perfect throw gets this done, but Vick is hesitant — and with two more chances, why risk it?

The defender in red probably would have gotten any pass to Johnson. Vick throws it away.

Alright, let's move on to second down. You're going to see many of the same problems.

Here's the pre-snap alignment. Jason Avant and Clay Harbor at the top. DeSean below.

Everybody is covered man-to-man, pressure coming up the middle.

Vick's best option is Harbor breaking free, but he can't actually see him.

A better quarterback lofts a ball to Harbor. Vick throws it away before taking another hit.

Finally, the ill-fated third down. Again, the Cardinals are going to bring pressure. They leave nearly all the receivers in man coverage.

McCoy decides to block the rusher at bottom.

Celek tangled with McCoy's blitzer, so Rhodes is coming free on the other side.

Again, Vick has nowhere to go with the ball. He's sacked so quickly.

Other than anticipate Harbor getting free on second down, I see little to fault Vick on here. The Cardinals knew passing was the Eagles' only option, and they didn't feel threatened by any of the receivers. Everyone received basic man coverage except for DeSean Jackson on the final play. Where was Vick supposed to go with it? And certainly Rhodes coming that free off the edge wasn't his fault — if anyone's it was McCoy.

I said on Twitter yesterday that this game reminded me of one of those "McNabb without weapons" classics. This is what I mean. Without Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles had no receiver whom they could count on to beat man coverage and get open for Vick in the end zone. So you had three straight tries, and a horrible, predictable result.