Oct 4, 2012, 2:00 PM EDT
As new friend of the Level and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Alan Robinson pointed out on Wednesday, Michael Vick has experienced some success in two career meetings against the Steelers. Then again, the Eagles quarterback’s struggles in Arizona might be telling us something completely different about this Sunday’s matchup.
After two meetings with Pittsburgh when he was still an Atlanta Falcon, Vick is surprisingly undefeated. In 2002, a 22-year-old Vick fought the Steelers to a 34-34 tie during his first full season as starter, throwing for 294 yards and a touchdown, running for 38 and another score, and refusing to yield a turnover. Four years later, Vick actually got the best of the black and gold in a 41-38 shootout, tossing four TD passes en route to the victory.
Of course, this was a much less polished version of Vick we’re talking about. It’s hard to say many of the things he did in those years carries a lot of weight today. That said, little has changed about the Steelers defense in the same timeframe — only the names, really.
Perhaps a more telling example of what to expect from Vick and the Eagles offense was seen as recently as Week 3.
The Arizona Cardinals coaching staff, led by head coach Ken Whisenhunt, was essentially transplanted from Pittsburgh. Whisenhunt was formerly the Steelers offensive coordinator, but more to the point, defensive coordinator Ray Horton served as a defensive backs coach under Dick LeBeau from 2004 through 2010.
Beings that it happened only two weeks ago, we should all be able to remember how that went down. Under constant pressure throughout the afternoon, Vick played one of his worst games in midnight green, completing less than 50% of his passes and losing two fumbles — the second of which was returned over 90 yards for a touchdown. The Eagles’ offense could not get into the end zone, and Philly lost 27-6.
Like many teams before, the Cards were able to rush Vick with the blitz, which not coincidentally has always been the signature of LeBeau’s defenses in Pittsburgh as well. Chances are we’ll be seeing a lot of the same concepts at work this week, if not some of the exact same schemes.
Then again, there is at least some doubt as to whether the Steelers will have as much success. While many might choose to think of Arizona as Pittsburgh Lite, the reality is their defense may have surpassed the Steelers in terms of pure talent.
Pitt’s star power on the defensive side of the field has dwindled in recent years, and the truly great players that remain — James Harrison and Troy Polamalu — are on the wrong side of their thirties, not to mention dealing with injuries. The Cardinals have some elder statesmen out there in Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson, but guys like Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington, and Patrick Peterson are right in the middle of their primes.
So it’s entirely possible the Arizona game can be used as a learning experience, and things will slow down for Vick this time around. He may even be able to draw on his past success against the storied Pittsburgh franchise.
Then again, the book on Vick is out there, and we’ve seen him struggle to move the ball before. The chess match between Vick and LeBeau should be very interesting to say the least.
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