NFL

How the Cowboys will stop Mike Vick

Sean Lee leads Cowboys in tackles and grasps Rob Ryan defense.
Sean Lee leads Cowboys in tackles and grasps Rob Ryan defense.
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John Lynch

John Lynch is a nine-time Pro Bowl safety who retired from the NFL in 2008. Lynch was a key member of the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl run in 2002. As an NFL on FOX analyst, Lynch brings his unique insight to FOXSports.com.

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Each week, John Lynch breaks down a dynamic NFL offensive playmaker, devises a game plan and discusses a strategy for success. This week, Lynch examines how he would defend against Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, former NFL quarterback Chad Pennington breaks down how Denver Broncos QB Tim Tebow should attack the Detroit Lions’ defense.

In the NFL, you have to fight the urge to play it safe when you face a great athlete, a superior athlete, like Michael Vick. Human nature almost causes players and coaches to be somewhat passive.

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The thinking becomes, “OK, we’ve got to corral this guy, because if we go full-speed, we’ll expose ourselves and open ourselves up to the big play.” Instead, you think, “We’ve got to play passive, and careful.”

That’s human nature.

And I think it’s the exact opposite of what you should do when you’re facing a superior athlete.

You have to do it with numbers, knowing that one guy isn’t likely to get him down.

You come from every angle. And if he misses him, at least it slows him down and you know another guy is coming. We used to call it “machine-gunning” an opponent – one guy comes, then another guy comes, then the other guy.

I thought about this when I was given my assignment this week: Game plan for the Dallas Cowboys defense against Vick and the Eagles.

We had great success in Tampa playing Vick when he was with Atlanta using that aggressive style. It was something we talked about. It was something we really had to talk about, because conventional wisdom was to go the other way. If you try to mush-rush, those types of things, it won’t work.

Being passive doesn’t do anything for you – it just allows him to extend the play longer. He’s a better athlete than 99 percent of players out there, and that allows him to run away.

The Eagles this season are giving away the ball at an alarming rate. They lead the NFL in turnovers through seven weeks with 17, while forcing nine takeaways.

The Cowboys can continue to force takeaways by keeping pressure up front.

If you give a guy like Vick too much time and space, he’s going to make good things happen, particularly with the explosive athletes they have outside.

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I think Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is the perfect guy for the task of limiting what Vick can do. I was incredibly impressed in Week 6 with the job Ryan did – they played New England and he threw multiple looks – multiple fronts, coverages – and it’s always changing.

There are a lot of teams that do that in the NFL but they aren’t always sound. They don’t have an answer for everything. Rob combines all of that. He throws multiple looks and variations at you, but his defense is very sound and it has an answer. It’s not just rolling the dice and saying “I hope we get there because if we don’t, we’re in trouble.”

You combine that with athletes like DeMarcus Ware and linebacker Sean Lee, whom Dallas coaches have credited with 71 tackles this season and is leading the NFL in takeaways (three interceptions, two fumble recoveries), and you can really get after a guy like Vick.

That’s how you continue to force the turnover troubles that the Eagles have had.

To contain Vick, the Cowboys also have to be concerned with Philly’s elite running back, LeSean McCoy. And they won’t forget about him.

The Cowboys have the No. 1 rush defense in the league and they take great pride in that. They are very successful being able to stop the run without “selling out” – having eight guys up there all the time. They are playing the run extremely well.

DeMarcus Ware, for all we hear about him as a pass rusher, may be the best run defender in the league. He’s having an MVP-type season, in my mind. Ryan is moving him all over the place.

The Eagles also have had well-documented problems in the red zone, scoring on just over 41 percent of their opportunities (25th in the NFL).

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When you look at the Philadelphia receiving corps, these guys are explosive, game-breaking-type receivers. But they aren’t the biggest bodies in the world. So when they get down in the red zone, teams that run the ball will have a huge advantage in that short field.

The running game can help out inside the 20 when you get one-on-one situations on the outside. But the windows are so tight, it’s tough to beat people down there unless you just go pure one-on-one matchups: You get a guy like Calvin Johnson and you tell him to just out-jump that guy and go get the ball.

That’s not DeSean Jackson’s forte. That’s not Jeremy Maclin’s forte. So that’s a big reason for the Eagles’ red zone struggles, and I think Rob Ryan can commit more people to stopping the run and really forcing Philadelphia to throw.

That is where the guys on the outside can really stand out – cornerbacks like Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman.

In all, when you look at what is at stake in this game, in the tight NFC East, this game is enormous – for both teams.

You have two teams that came out of the blocks slowly, but I think you have two teams that are really on the come right now.

I think Philly is starting to address a lot of the things that ailed its team earlier. And I think Dallas has been playing pretty darn good defense throughout the year. The Cowboys have had some turnover problems and some late-game collapses. They didn’t run the football well prior to Week 6, and then they went crazy with the run game and that just helps out quarterback Tony Romo.

You’ve got two teams in the NFC East that are really improving and then you’ve got the New York Giants out there in front, and this is going to be a real competitive division. You’d better win it if you want to punch your ticket to the playoffs.

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This game also could be a good example of how defenses are finally catching up to the offenses. The conventional wisdom was that defenses would be ahead of the offenses following the lockout. Clearly that wasn’t the case at all, particularly in the first quarter of the season.

I think defenses are finally starting to settle in, and you’re seeing better tackling. A lot of these yards that were surrendered the first six weeks of the season were just a product of awful tackling.

The way offenses are playing with speed these days, if you miss one tackle it’s out the door. The spread is really making its way into the NFL and everyone is adjusting to how you stop it.

Dallas has a top-five defense. Rob Ryan mixes up the looks on defense and he’ll do that against Vick and the Eagles. He despises the tired philosophy of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Rather, Ryan preaches this to his players: KILL (Keep It Learnable, and Likeable).

And multiple.

Tagged: Cowboys, Broncos, Eagles, Michael Vick, DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee, Tim Tebow

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