The Eagles’ offense is one built to secure big plays—something they haven’t been able to accomplish often in 2012. With explosive, dynamic athletes all over the field, however, the Cowboys’ defense absolutely needs to prepare for an offense that will attack them downfield. Let’s take a look at how some of the Eagles’ offensive numbers—specifically those of quarterback Michael Vick—could shape how Rob Ryan’s defense attacks Philly on Sunday afternoon.
59.8: Michael Vick’s passer rating on first down
For whatever reason, Vick has struggled mightily on first down this season. He’s completed just 53.7 percent of his first down passes and thrown five picks on first down, which is pretty perplexing since the majority of NFL quarterbacks excel with a new set of chains. The Eagles are fairly balanced on first down, passing the ball on 52.5 percent of snaps. While the Cowboys always need to look out for the big play—the Eagles like to take shots downfield early, which may be part of the reason for Vick’s low completion percentage—they could get Philly in long down-and-distance situations by stopping LeSean McCoy and the Eagles’ 4.5 YPC on first down.
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86.2: Vick’s passer rating when blitzed
Although Vick is hardly outstanding against the blitz, he’s been even worse (72.7 passer rating) when not blitzed. On Wednesday, I explained why Rob Ryan should play a lot of zone coverage
, and Vick’s ability to beat the blitz was a major reason. Remember, Vick’s legs are just as dangerous as his arm, and he’s a whole lot more likely to run wild against a blitz—and subsequent man coverage—than a safe zone. Further, Vick holds onto the ball so long that the Cowboys should be able to pressure the quarterback without sending extra rushers.
42.5: Vick’s completion percentage in the red zone
The Eagles’ red zone offense has been atrocious in 2012, averaging 1.9 YPC on the ground and 3.3 YPA through the air. Philly has also committed seven turnovers in the red zone. A big reason Vick struggles in the red zone is that the field becomes condensed, meaning throws must be more precise. Vick isn’t a highly-accurate passer in any area of the field, so his low completion percentage in the red zone isn’t a surprise. His completion rate is actually 19.1 percent lower than the league average.
Thus, the Cowboys might want to think about defending Vick as if the Eagles were always in the red zone, forcing contested throws underneath without allowing deep passes. That’s why I think you’re going to see a whole lot of Cover 2 on Sunday. With two deep safeties, the Cowboys can limit big-play potential and dare Philly to run the ball—something they likely won’t do with consistency. Cover 2 would also allow for at least five underneath defenders, forcing continual accuracy from Vick. Of course, it will all come down to stopping the run and getting at least decent pressure from the conservative look.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.