Thursday, November 18, 2010
Updated: November 21, 3:18 AM ET
Big Blue D ready to cut to the chase
By Ohm Youngmisuk
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Moments before Perry Fewell talked to reporters during his weekly interview, the New York Giants' defensive coordinator began to rub his eyes as if he were weary from a long day.
Preparing to stop Michael Vick can leave a coordinator exhausted. But a few minutes later, Fewell's eyes began to widen and his voice rose with enthusiasm.
The more he was asked about the challenge of slowing down Vick, the more excited Fewell got. While Tom Coughlin joked -- at least we think he was joking -- that he got indigestion and a stomachache from watching Vick destroy the Redskins, Fewell looked like he was ready to throw his top-ranked defense at the NFL's hottest player on Thursday.
And he insists he has been sleeping well despite what one might think after seeing the Michael Vick experience in full effect Monday night.
"I'd say we have a good plan in place," Fewell said. "And I like our chances."
This pivotal NFC East game between the Giants and Eagles on Sunday night is one of the reasons Fewell was hired to replace Bill Sheridan. The Giants (6-3) have not beaten the Eagles (6-3) in their past four meetings, and now they face the most dynamic player in the game.
Vick became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns while also rushing for 50-plus yards and two touchdowns in a 59-28 demolition of Washington.
Vick's 88-yard touchdown strike to DeSean Jackson on the first play of the game left many breathless.
Fewell likened Vick to a basketball superstar who makes everyone around him better. The Giants must worry about speedsters like Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy. Last season, Jackson dusted the Giants' secondary on 54- and 60-yard touchdown passes while also returning a 72-yard punt for a touchdown. McCoy had a 66-yard touchdown run as well.
While Fewell wouldn't reveal much about what his "Vick Rules" will be Sunday, he has thrown some exotic looks at opponents this season, using three safeties, positioning defensive ends, safeties and corners at linebacker, and lining up four defensive ends up front at times.
He has had success plugging gaps to shut down the NFL's leading rusher; he held Houston's Arian Foster to 25 yards. He also held Carolina's duo of Giants killers -- DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart -- to a total of 74 yards. In addition, Fewell's defense limited Tennessee's Chris Johnson to a manageable 70 yards on his first 27 carries until the explosive back gained 55 yards on a late drive after the game got out of hand.
But he also has seen his strategy backfire against Peyton Manning, who toyed with a defense designed to stop the pass. And there was this past Sunday's debacle against the Cowboys, who seemed to have a counter to many of Fewell's moves.
The Giants couldn't stop Jon Kitna, and now they try to smother the red-hot Vick.
"We haven't had that type of monster to deal with this year," defensive end Justin Tuck said.
The Giants will have to pick their poison. Do they come after Vick but risk having their pass rush get behind Vick, allowing perhaps the NFL's most dangerous runner to sprint upfield with the secondary focused on Philadelphia's speed merchants? Or do they rush with discipline and make sure to contain Vick?
"He's going to burn you one way or the other," said Tuck, whose Giants have not registered a sack in the past two games. "I'll be going [all] out after him rather than sitting back and letting him pick us apart. He has a tendency to make some mistakes when you get after him."
The last time Vick faced the Giants as a starter, in 2006, the then-Atlanta quarterback was sacked seven times, fumbling four times and losing one. He threw an interception, and finished with just 154 yards passing and 68 yards rushing in a 27-14 loss to the Giants.
Vick, though, is a much more polished quarterback and a much-improved pocket passer. This season, the Eagles quarterback has completed 65.6 percent of his passes, has thrown 10 of his 11 touchdowns and has a 122.2 passer rating when passing inside the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Vick has yet to throw an interception this season, but Coughlin said opponents have dropped potential picks.
The Eagles have made sure to give Vick time to go through his progressions with diverse max-protection schemes. Other times, Tuck says, the Eagles will look like they are in max protection only to have the tight end or running back run a delayed route after chipping on a defensive end.
"They do a great job of window dressing a lot of stuff," Tuck said.
The Giants will have to do a lot of their own disguising. Should they decide to use a spy on Vick, they will have to make sure their spy looks more like the undetectable Jason Bourne than the flashy James Bond.
"Don't let him know when you have a spy," said safety Deon Grant, who got experience as a spy on Vick when he played in Carolina against Atlanta from 2001 to '03. "You just got to mix up and let him find out if it is a spy. By the time he realizes, it's too late."
Fewell said he believes that sometimes it is necessary to use a spy but he has seen Vick burn so many like he did against the Redskins, who used safety LaRon Landry to spy at times.
"I like to see the spy," Vick said. "When you see the spy, you know they're taking a man out of coverage."
Fewell might utilize his three-safety look, considering the Giants will need to guard against the run and pass. Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips and Grant are safeties big enough to play linebacker with speed to cover.
Communication, which the safeties help at, is also paramount after the Giants had some breakdowns against Dallas.
No matter what Fewell throws at Vick, the Giants all agree they must hit Vick hard when given the chance. And they have to play their brand of defense and rely on their strengths.
"You can't let one man alter your entire game plan," Rolle said.
And as for that game plan, Fewell isn't divulging many details.
"I will say that we have a good plan in place for them," Fewell said. "And that I like our defense against their offense."
Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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