The NFL's decision to move the Vikings-Eagles game into prime time Sunday night wasn't based on both teams being in the thick of the playoff chase. The Vikings have long since been eliminated (realistically and mathematically) from playoff contention for weeks, so that wasn't the motivation. The real reason? To give all NFL fans a chance to see Michael Vick do what he does best.
Just 19 months after being released from prison, Vick is the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player in the league and has helped make the Eagles one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Some thought his two years away from the game on dogfighting charges would be enough to derail his career. However, he is playing at the highest level of his career and has become as intimidating a big-play threat as there is in the league.
A lot of the Vikings saw Vick work his magic against the Giants Sunday, as he brought the team back from 21 points down with eight minutes to play to beat New York as time expired. As the Vikings have watched film on Vick and see how he can make big plays out of what appears to be nothing or even a loss of yardage, he can be a little intimidating – even to tough guys on the defensive side of the ball.
"His mobility is what makes him so special," cornerback Frank Walker said. "He gets it done with his feet. He's half-man and half-amazing."
What makes Vick so frustrating for defenders is that they can do everything right on a given play – cut off his outside running lanes, blanket his receivers, take away the check-down option, etc. – and somehow Vick can still make the plays that cripple a defense. Lito Sheppard, who has followed his former Eagles teammates this year, said time and again Vick has made big plays out of virtually nothing.
"The biggest problem with him is that you can do things right defensively and he still makes plays," Sheppard said. "You can get your pass rush going after him and collapse the pockets. For most quarterbacks, that ends the play. For him, a lot of times, it's just starting. He is as dangerous a player as there is in the league and he's playing at an MVP level right now."
Some teams have gone with the defensive scheme of putting a "spy" on Vick, keeping a linebacker mirroring his movements at the line of scrimmage to keep him in the pocket to prevent long running gains. The Vikings don't look to be one of those teams.
"We may do something to try to confuse him or keep a linebacker closer to the line of scrimmage on some plays, but I don't think we're going to throw a spy on him," linebacker Ben Leber said. "Maybe when he was back in Atlanta he didn't have the playmakers around him, but they are loaded with other guys and you kind of have to pick your poison with them. You can make an effort to stop Vick, but if you give them other chances to make plays, you've defeated the purpose."
Leber's point makes sense. The Eagles have a collection of big-play producers that have the team with four players that have scored eight or more touchdowns. Vick has eight rushing touchdowns, DeSean Jackson has scored eight touchdowns (six receiving, two on returns), LeSean McCoy has nine touchdowns (seven rushing, two receiving) and Jeremy Maclin has caught 10 TD passes.
Chad Greenway, who would be a likely candidate to spy Vick if the Vikings opted to go that route, said he doesn't believe the Vikings will put too much focus on containing Vick because of the arsenal of other weapons the Eagles have.
"It's hard to (put a spy) on him when they have so many other players he can get the ball to or throw it to," Greenway said. "With all the things they can do, it's tough to defend them anywhere. He just brings different things to the table as far as what we've seen and it will be hard to defend."
So, as the Vikings prepare for their third straight prime-time game, they do so without giving Vick the special attention so many believe he deserves. They didn't change their plan of attack to stop Tom Brady. They did nothing out of the ordinary for Aaron Rodgers or Tony Romo, so they maintain they won't for Vick either – for better or worse.
"This defense don't change what we do for nobody," Walker said. "Some defenses so, but this definitely isn't one of them. We're going to be coming after him and playing like we do against anyone else. If he's going to make plays, he's going to have to earn them and it's going to be our job to make sure he doesn't get loose and make those big plays."
That, unfortunately for Eagles opponents, has been much easier said than done and the Vikings may be the next to learn that hard lesson.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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