Eagles' Vick improving against the blitz

Michael Vick looks for a receiver while running back Bryce Brown (right) tries to keep the Steelers' Lawrence Timmons away from him during the Eagles' loss in Pittsburgh. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Michael Vick looks for a receiver while running back Bryce Brown (right) tries to keep the Steelers' Lawrence Timmons away from him during the Eagles' loss in Pittsburgh. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Posted: October 12, 2012

Lost in the uproar over Michael Vick's two fumbles on Sunday was a second straight strong performance from the quarterback against the blitz.

His 11 turnovers this season have dominated the conversation after the Eagles' 16-14 loss in Pittsburgh - and rightfully so. But Vick's improvement when facing additional pass rushers has largely gone unnoticed.

Andy Reid has noticed. He must if he is to focus on the positive in light of his quarterback's turnover woes. But Vick's numbers against the blitz in the last two games are so different from the first three that it suggests a progression that is no fluke.

"You saw it in this past game," Reid said Wednesday as his Eagles prepared for Sunday's home game against the Detroit Lions. "They blitzed us on some of the plays in that long drive we had, in some cases zero blitzes where they brought everybody they could bring, and still covered the guys who were eligible. He did well against those."

The Steelers blitzed Vick 17 times on 36 drop-backs. When they came with extra rushers, he completed 11 of 15 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns. He did not toss an interception but was sacked twice.

The week before against the New York Giants, his numbers against the blitz were equally as good - 8 of 12 for 125 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions. Vick's combined numbers against the blitz in the last two games computed to a 136 passer rating.

He had very little success against the blitz to open the season and struggled immensely against the Cardinals in Week 3. Vick completed only 18 of 46 passes for 337 yards against the blitz in the first three games. He did not throw a touchdown or an interception and was sacked six times.

Both of his fumbles in Arizona came against the blitz, the second near the goal line when safety Kerry Rhodes rushed from the slot and pummeled an unsuspecting Vick. The fumble was returned for a touchdown.

The Eagles offense's inability to adjust in that game made it all but certain that opposing defensive coordinators would continue to dial up blitzes until Vick figured out how to make their defenses pay.

"It's been productive. It's something that my coaches have really harped on," Vick said. "But it's like you accomplish one thing [and] you don't want to take a couple of steps back and have to start at ground zero because of ball security."

The strides Vick has made against the blitz have been overshadowed by his fumbles. He has a league-high eight (five lost) this season and is the NFL's active leader in career fumbles (84) and fumbles lost (39).

Sunday's lost fumbles, however, were of great concern because Vick did not take bone-jarring hits like the one he took from Rhodes.

"He'll fix it," Reid said. "He'll get it taken care of."

He'd better. Just as defenses will send extra pass rushers at Vick until he improves against the blitz, defenders will make the extra effort to strip the football from his seemingly loose handle.

"I expect everybody that gets close to me to be reaching for the football," Vick said. "It's totally my responsibility to take care of the ball and move on, especially for the sake of this football team. It's something I've got to get corrected."

Reid has said the team always works on protecting the ball in practice. But quarterbacks are off limits in terms of contact during the workweek. Vick was asked if there was anything additional he could do to ward off fumbles.

"You have some drills you can create. We have a drill that we do," Vick said. "But it's just being out there on the field. You've got to be able to take care of the ball within the moment."

That isn't necessarily true with the blitz. While it's difficult to simulate an opposing defense, the Eagles still practice endlessly on facing various blitz packages. Vick said most of the work, however, has been done in the classroom watching film.

"I'm proud of that because I was like last in the league last year," Vick said of his 65.5 passer rating against the blitz in 2011. "Throughout my career I've been not so good against the blitz. Now it's starting to pay off, and that's from understanding protections and knowing when one guy is coming free."

Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com

or on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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