Michael Vick walked into the Sixers-Lakers basketball game on Friday night and the fans rose, applauded wildly and showered him with love and chants of "MVP, MVP." It was a warm and telling moment, and certainly the last time this weekend that Vick will hear so many bouquets thrown his way. The crowd at the new Meadowlands, home of the Giants, is sure to be more, um, colorful.
The Giants -- the fans, the coaches, the defense -- are all geared up to shut Vick down. There is talk from Giants world about the focus to "hit Vick hard" and to "be physical" against him and to, basically, look to take Vick out of the game -- in a clean, aggressive manner -- when the opportunity presents itself.
This is a great, great matchup. Vick is the focal point for every defense the Eagles face, but the Giants have the speed and the scheme and the discipline to play well here. It is one thing to talk about containing Vick, and it is an entirely different task to actually go out and have a chance to do so. New York is a top-flight defense. This is going to be a battle.
What really matters is not the talk, not the hype, not all of the headlines from the week that has been, but how the respective coaching staffs are strategizing for the game. The Eagles studied the Giants defense from the first game, looked at everything that worked for New York and made notes about what the Eagles were able to exploit at Lincoln Financial Field.
And while the picture is going to look similar this time around, there will be enough differences to note. New York understands that the Eagles had a lot of success moving the football between the 20-yard lines. The pressure package that the Giants brought forced some turnovers, allowed the defense to get some hits on Vick, but ultimately did not stop the Eagles when needed.
What is the strategy this time? Clearly, the Giants want to get at Vick without sacrificing too much coverage on the back end. They want to win some one-on-one battles up front with their dominating front four -- Osi Umenyiora against Jason Peters, Justin Tuck against King Dunlap (likely) -- and their excellent inside tackles against the Eagles' offensive interior. If New York wins up front with its four defensive linemen, it will be a very tough game for Vick and the offense.
New York blitzed safety Antrel Rolle in the first game, using him as a roving linebacker. He timed Vick's cadence and had success as the Giants covered him with two deep safeties in their three-safety scheme. New York took away the deep ball and at the same time limited Vick's effectiveness rolling and running to his left.
Had it been suggested a few months ago that the Eagles would head into this game with Dunlap starting at right tackle against Tuck, there would have been major, major concern. But Dunlap has stepped up in three starts -- two at left tackle, one at right tackle -- and he handled himself well last week against Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware in Dallas. Tuck had three sacks in the earlier game, but the performance wasn't as dominating as the numbers suggest. He caught Vick on a bootleg, came late on a cover sack and reached Vick once rushing as an inside tackle. Tuck, of course, is a premier player, a versatile threat, and he moves up and down the line, stands up at times, and looks to create mismatches in pass protection. The Eagles have to be aware of his presence.
For their part, the Eagles aren't likely to change much of what they do. They kind of do everything, don't they, so the real key is for Marty Mornhinweg and the coaching staff to recognize favorable matchups and go after them. It would be shocking, of course, if the Eagles called 10 running plays to open the game, but maybe they will after ending the game so forcefully in Dallas. This is an offense with so much confidence. Vick can do it all, and his versatility has expanded the playbook this season.
It all revolves around the quarterback. If the Giants suffocate him, and hit Vick, and hurry him, the Eagles' rhythm will be off. That's really the only way to stop this offense -- to take it out of its comfort zone. Can a defense rush Vick successfully with four men and cover DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy and all of these weapons in the passing game? Or can the Giants mix things up, get the Eagles off balance and force a turnover or two and make the scoreboard lopsided early to take balance away from the Eagles offense?
I expect the Giants to try to run the ball a lot and keep the clock moving when Eli Manning and the New York offense is on the field. It makes sense, doesn't it? The best way to limit Vick is to keep him off the field. And with that running game, the Giants would be wise to test rookie linebacker Jamar Chaney and the run defense from the get go. Make the Eagles defense stop the run. Try to wear down that group.
It is important for the Eagles, obviously, to get off the field on defense, get Vick in good field position and allow the offense to have all of its options. Can't wait ...
Vick is walking into a hostile environment, perhaps as nasty as this offense has encountered during the season. But it is not a place where visiting teams fall apart. Tennessee won there. Dallas won in the Meadowlands. Jacksonville pushed the Giants to the brink.
The Eagles are next in line in what is a must-win game for both teams in the NFC East. And Vick, as he always is, has a target on his back. He is the one the Giants have to contain to have any shot to corral the offense. The warm receptions are over. The Eagles are preparing to enter the football war zone on Sunday afternoon.