Like Michael Vick, defensive solutions for Ravens are elusive

Ravens could choose to 'spy' on Eagles QB or stick with their base 3-4 alignment

September 15, 2012|By Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun

Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis' mind is bound to race wildly today, consumed with deducing the moves of unpredictable, enigmatic and gifted Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

As the play clock ticks down and Vick barks out signals, Lewis will peer across the line of scrimmage to glean hints of what Vick might do next. Vick's impact is seemingly limited only by his imagination.

 As the Ravens square off with the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, containing Vick is of paramount importance.

Although Vick is coming off one of his worst games, a four-interception debacle in a narrow win over the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens are aware of the kind of damage the multidimensional passer can inflict.

"It's no secret who this guy is," Lewis said. "This guy is fantastic with the football. We have to play our game. You can't be enamored of what he does. He's Vick, and he's a very, very, very, very special talent, but we are ready to go play a full football game."

Between his strong left arm, sprinter's speed and uncanny knack for making defenders look foolish with electric moves, Vick is a unique figure in the NFL quarterback fraternity.

"He's a guy who can shred you with his arm and his legs," Ravens strong safety Bernard Pollard said.

Defending Vick figures to test the Ravens to their core in terms of demanding athleticism and applying a sound strategy to every snap.

"He's elusive," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He can really throw the ball. You can never underestimate that."

Any lapses of concentration or physical breakdowns against Vick can spell doom for a defense, even a veteran outfit like the Ravens that ranked third in total defense last season and 13th overall this year.

"He's a rare breed," cornerback Cary Williams said of Vick, who has passed for 18,229 career yards and 113 touchdowns with 5,251 yards and 33 touchdowns rushing. "We've got to contain him because he has great arm strength and his running ability is amazing.

"We've got good athletes to match up with him. We're not afraid of him, by any means. It takes all 11 players to stop him."

Spy games

Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees faces a strategic quandary in planning for Vick.

Should he assign one defender as a designated spy devoted to shadowing Vick wherever he goes?

Or should Pees stick with his 3-4 base alignment, having players carry out normal assignments with an eye toward keeping Vick inside the pocket and away from the perimeter?

Using a spy against Vick typically involves a mobile defender, such as a safety or a fast linebacker, with no pass-coverage, pass-rushing responsibilities or other duties until the football leaves his hands.

"Whether you spy him or not, you take out the integrity of your defense," Lewis said. "You start to compromise it a little bit. If you play the way your defense should be playing, it should take care of itself. Anytime you try to do something extra for one player, no matter who it is, I believe it kind of messes up your scheme of things."

NFL analyst Greg Cosell, a senior producer at NFL Films known for his intense study of game film, isn't an advocate of using a spy on Vick.

"It's a waste of time," Cosell said. "He's a better athlete than anybody you're going to put on him, and you're removing a guy from pressure or from coverage. Some people tell you he's frenetic and live with the one or two big runs. That gets him out of his rhythm and he totally becomes a sandlot player.

"Other people are scared to death of him. So, they just try to gently push the pocket and keep their outside rushers in to keep him boxed in. There's two schools of thought."

Former Washington Redskins safety Matt Bowen says maintaining discipline with defensive ends and outside linebackers is more important than dedicating one defender to Vick.

"I'm never a big fan of spying the quarterback," Bowen said. "If you let Vick outside, that's when that 4.4 speed comes into play. The Baltimore outside linebackers need to get up the field and when they sense they're getting too high, that's when you plant your foot and keep him in that circle. Then, he has nowhere to go. That's when he starts making mistakes."

Against the Browns, Vick completed only 29 of 56 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think you play your defense and don't defend the specific individual," former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann said. "Michael Vick can run faster than anybody you have on your defense. You keep a body in front of him and direct him to your support. You can focus on Michael, but it's LeSean McCoy, their running back, that makes that offense go. He's the piston that drives that engine."

If the Ravens do spy Vick, even occasionally, it would probably involve using Pollard.

Pollard is a hard-hitting 6-foot-1, 225-pounder who combines open-field tackling ability with decent speed.

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