Bob Ford: Michael Vick's fumbles hurt Eagles this time

Posted: October 08, 2012

PITTSBURGH - The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers needed to prepare a defensive game plan for dealing with Michael Vick, the quarterback was a scatter-armed 26-year-old whose biggest public relations issue was an unfortunate incident regarding what used to be politely termed a "social disease."

That was a while ago, and Vick has lived several lifetimes since 2006, but the problems he can present for a defense remain unique. Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau took the middle door in designing his philosophy for Sunday's game. He wanted to put pressure on Vick, but keep him from slipping through the gaps in that pressure. He wanted to make sure there was double coverage on every deep receiving route.

Essentially, LeBeau wanted to force Vick into constructing long drives, which has not been his specialty. And the more plays Vick has to run, the better the chance he will make the defense's job easier by simply handing over the football.

At the end of a rainy afternoon in Pittsburgh, the Steelers had done their defensive job just well enough to win. They held Vick and the Eagles to 14 points, even though it looked as if 14 might get the job done for a while. As it turned out, the go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter came just a little too early this time.

"We had the ball last. Such is life," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "Sometimes, it's who's got the ball last."

The Eagles know all about that. They scored in the final two minutes to beat the Browns, Ravens and Giants and survived that Lawrence Tynes field goal attempt in the New York game. Maybe they were due to have one go through the uprights against them. Maybe if Andy Reid still had a timeout left (unlikely), he would have tried to ice Sean Suisham and maybe it would have worked (also unlikely).

Here's something they might consider: Score in the first half, so that every fourth quarter doesn't become such a death struggle. They have been outscored 57-24 in the first halves of their games this season. Even taking the 24-0 first half against the Cardinals out of the equation, they have been outscored 33-24 in the first halves of the other four games . . . and won three of them.

Averaging fewer than five points in the first half is not the way to win football games, and the problem really starts with Vick's turnovers. Seven of his 11 turnovers this season have come in the first half of games, including the two first-quarter fumbles on Sunday against the Steelers. The first came at the goal line, taking points out away from the Eagles, and the second gave Pittsburgh excellent field position.

"I mean, it's football. Things happen," Vick said. "I wish I could take back the fumble on the goal line, but I can't. That's how it goes in the NFL. You wish you could have some things back, and there are plenty of things I wish I could have back through the course of this season, but you can't get them."

The problem is that working on not turning over the ball is like working on being taller. It isn't as if Vick is unaware that he should not fumble, or not throw passes to the other team.

"I never had a problem with fumbling before," Vick said. "It was one of those things. Everything happens for a reason and if it was meant to be, I wouldn't have fumbled the ball at the goal line. But I have no explanation for it."

While it is difficult to determine the larger cosmic reason for that fumble - or the other four he lost this season - it is also incredible that Vick, who happens to have lost more fumbles than any active player in the NFL, doesn't think he has ever had a fumbling problem.

"I will do a better job of protecting the football," Vick said. Again.

These other teams pay attention, and more are going to adopt the Steelers' philosophy. They will take away the deep ball, use pressure to contain Vick, let the Eagles march around at times, and wait for the quarterback to make a mistake.

"You want to put pressure on him, but it's not necessarily about sacks," outside linebacker James Harrison said.

"We did the same thing we do every week. We didn't put any special spies on him. We didn't have special rush lanes where the defensive ends don't rush," safety Ryan Clark said. "He's a world-class athlete, and he's going to make some plays. We just talked about the defensive backs playing 'plaster' defense. Stay with your man when [Vick] starts moving around back there."

Vick's numbers were fine on Sunday in a vacuum. His passer rating was over 100. He threw for two touchdowns and completed two-thirds of his passes. Somehow, all of that only added up to 14 points, which makes the fourth time in five games the team hasn't reached 20 points.

"He didn't want to come in and fumble the ball," Reid said.

Everything happens for a reason. Until proved otherwise, the best available reason is that Michael Vick fumbles.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.

 

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