FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The New York Jets know they’re going to have their hands full with Michael Vick.
That is, if they can get a hand on the elusive Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sunday.
“You can’t stop him alone,” nose tackle Sione Pouha said. “There’s no one person that can just match up with him.”
Vick returned last week from broken ribs, but wasn’t 100 percent in the Eagles’ 26-10 win at Miami. Still, the Jets expect Vick, still dealing with sore ribs, to provide a tough test. Mobile quarterbacks have given the Jets fits this season by slipping out of pressure, and now they’re facing perhaps the NFL’s best ever at creating plays out of nothing with his legs.
“You just have to make sure that everyone assumes the responsibility of getting him down,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “He’s a playmaker who can keep plays alive and he has the uncanny ability, with his strong arm, to throw the ball across his body and across the field with just a flick of the wrist.”
Coach Rex Ryan even had a few speedy defensive backs simulate Vick’s running skills to get the defensive linemen prepared for what they’ll see at Philadelphia. Isaiah Trufant and newly signed Gerald Alexander were out there on the practice field, zipping around in the backfield and trying to make guys miss.
“They had to chase me around a little bit, so I was giving them a little bit of the run-around,” Trufant said with a big laugh. “It gave them an early look of what to expect and what we will get from Michael Vick. When he’s moving around back there in the pocket, he’s hard to contain.”
And, judging from his teammates’ comments, Trufant was doing a pretty good job being Vick.
“Slow down,” Trufant said they told him. “Stop!”
If it were only as simple as that against Vick, though. The Eagles (5-8) are holding on to slim playoff hopes, so Vick will surely be motivated to do whatever he can to keep them going. Despite missing three games because of the rib injury, Vick has rushed for 544 yards — second to only Carolina’s Cam Newton among NFL quarterbacks.
“There are times you understand he’s going to get out,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. “That’s where the challenge really starts, and you have to prepare for it. You have to practice it. So, coverage-wise, the guys in the back end know that they have to plaster, latch on to their receivers and cover for a lot longer than normal.”
Linebacker David Harris says there is some danger in focusing too much on Vick because he has so many options with running back LeSean McCoy and speedy receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and sure-handed tight end Brent Celek.
“If you worry (about) him running, you might lose track of one of those fast wide receivers getting downfield,” Harris said. “DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin have been thriving off of that, so you just have to play all-around good defense. They’re one of the top rushing teams in the league and everybody knows what type of athletes they have on that side of the ball, so we have to go out there and do our thing.”
As long as they don’t repeat some of their previous performances against some of the league’s other elusive quarterbacks. Denver’s Tim Tebow might be the best example, running for 68 yards against them — including a 20-yard dash for the winning score last month — and being sacked just once.
“Tebow has more called quarterback runs, but they’ve done some with Vick,” Pettine said. “I don’t know how many we’ll get now that he’s a little banged up. I would say Tebow’s a little more like (Ben) Roethlisberger in the style of running where it’s hard to bring them down. It’s hard to bring Vick down, but he makes guys miss a lot more. He’s like a wideout in open space where Roethlisberger and Tebow are more like fullbacks.”
Blitzing Vick is almost a no-no because of the way he can side-step a rushing linebacker or defensive back, and then take off.
“It takes all 11 guys,” Pouha said. “And, I promise you, he’ll make three or four of you miss. That’s why you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got the other seven or eight guys right behind you. It’s all about pursuit and being around the ball. I think that’s how you do it, just swarm the ball.”
Ryan has previously coached against Vick twice in the regular season, both when he was an assistant in Baltimore and the quarterback was still with the Atlanta Falcons. Vick was 11 of 21 for 127 yards and a touchdown, while running six times for 54 yards in a 24-10 loss in 2006. He was 12 of 24 for 136 yards and an interception, and was held to minus-5 yards rushing on seven carries in a 20-17 win in 2002.
“We’ve done OK against him in the past,” Ryan said. “But, again, you’re never going to be comfortable until the bus is heading home and the game’s over. He’s a scary athlete.”