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

Sep 13, 2012, 2:28 PM EDT

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.