Week 2 provides us with a handful of great games, and I'll touch on many of them below, but to me the highlight of the weekend will be the Falcons hosting the Eagles.
Michael Vick is returning to Atlanta on Sunday night to face his old team for the first time as a visiting starting quarterback. Vick also will play in a dome on the carpet for the second consecutive week - Philadelphia beat St. Louis in the Edward Jones Dome last Sunday -- which highlights his incredible speed and big play ability. Vick is great on any surface, but when he is on a fast track he is sensational. When I first watched Vick play while working for the Raiders, my first question was how does a team stop him? Chasing him around is hard to do and rarely is he caught. For defensive coaches, facing Vick presents unique problems, and even more so now with the Eagles than when he played for the Falcons.
The Eagles offense is unique in the sense it is all about big plays and not down and distance. Normally, defensive coordinators set their defense based on down and distance, and the tendency of their opponents on each down. But with Vick and the fast break offense of the Eagles, down and distance is meaningless. Each play has the potential for a big gain. Defensive coordinators can make the perfect call only to watch Vick make a first down.
So how do you prepare for Vick and the Eagles offense? Just keep it simple. Teams that are disciplined and fundamentally sound in their base defense will create more problems for Philadelphia than a team that tries to attack with overloaded pressures. When Vick plays against an undisciplined, aggressive defensive line, he is at his best because he can avoid the first tackler and turn an offensive play into a punt return.
The Eagles set Vick deeply in the pocket for two reasons: 1) To create separation from the defensive line, so there is space to move; and 2) To give the relatively short Vick (6-foot) the ability to see down the field.
For the Falcons to win Sunday, their defensive line must play smart. They can be great without having a sack all night. Their line must rush Vick much like they are rushing a field goal -- going down the middle of each lineman, always keeping Vick in front of them. They must never go past Vick - I've said many times the worst place to be in football is past the quarterback -- and don't worry about sacking him, only worry about staying in your lane.
Keeping Vick in the pocket will force him to make every throw precise and limit his opportunities to use his feet. The longer the play goes, the more the defense gets stretched; if Vick is on the move in space, he can still throw the ball downfield for the big play. However if he is surrounded and boxed in, it will take his eye level down, focusing on escaping as opposed to making throws.
The Falcons play their best when the offense starts fast and gets a quick lead, which allows the defense to rush the passer and take advantage of the crowd noise. But that won't work against Vick and the Eagles.
The First 15
1. I thought the Bill Belichick special Thursday night on NFL Network was an accurate look at the man who has won three Super Bowls with the Patriots. It was pure Belichick, from the handling of the staff and his view on the game, to his ability to break down an opponent and understanding what his team needs to become a champion. If you missed the show, make sure you check out part one -- it re-airs Friday at 4 p.m. ET and Saturday at 9 p.m. ET -- before part two airs next Thursday.
2. Wonder why there were so many passing yards in Week 1? It's easy to figure out -- because quarterbacks threw the ball to covered receivers. That's not a typo. Being covered doesn't necessarily mean the receiver isn't open. This is called a NAP throw -- NAP stands for non-aggressive player -- which means the defender covering the receiver has his back to the quarterback. When this occurs, the quarterback will throw the ball to an area on the receiver that the defender could never find. All great quarterbacks in the league have this throw available to them. If your team is not throwing to the covered man, they are losing yards on the field.
3. When the Saints signed defensive tackle Shaun Rodgers, I thought he would give them a huge presence in the middle of their defense. But last Thursday night he played high, he played soft and he played bad. If he does not get better, I am afraid the Saints won't be as good in their defensive line as I thought during camp.
4. Back in the early '90s, I worked for the Browns and we lost badly to the Bengals in Cincinnati. Getting on the team bus with a disgusted look on my face, I sat next to Nick Saban, our defensive coordinator. Saban said to me, don't be pissed off; until we all accept that they are better than we are, and stop acting like we are the better team, we will never beat them. Saban was so right. That advice is the same advice I have for the current Browns -- the Bengals are the better team and until you come to grips with that fact, nothing will change. The Browns acted shocked they lost to the Bengals last weekend. In reality, they should just admit they are not as good.
5. The Rams must protect Sam Bradford much better or he won't be healthy to have the kind of year he is capable of having. The Rams need more speed on offense and better get tackle Jason Smith, the former No. 2 overall draft pick, playing better, or get him off the first unit.
6. The Seahawks have gotten significantly worse than last year, especially on offense. Tarvaris Jackson is 10-11 as a starter in the NFL and I wonder how much longer the Seahawks can continue to play him.
7. What impressed me most about Cam Newton's performance against the Cardinals was his ability to play fast, think fast and react fast. This week will be another test to see if he can adapt to the speed of the game. The Packers won't blow coverages like the Cardinals did last week and they will try to confuse Newton. The key for Newton is to get as many repetitions as he possibly can this season. That will speed his development and make the Panthers a legitimate contender next season.
8. The Colts only have 14 players on their 53-man roster from other teams, as the remaining players are either from their draft (28) or signed as college free agents. This is the best time for the Colts front office to evaluate the players in an honest setting, without Peyton Manning making everyone look good. The Colts need to embrace this time as a way to really examine the talent level of their team and make decisions for the future. Placing 2010 first-round pick Jerry Hughes on the inactive list each week means he is not ready for the league and may never get ready.
9. One thing that jumped off the tape this week while watching all the games was how well the Raiders defensive front played. It was not just Tommy Kelly or Richard Seymour playing well; it was the entire front. They dominated the Broncos and should dominate the Bills front this weekend. The Raiders will cause problems for any team they have to play that is not equipped to handle their front.
10. Losing Eric Berry is a huge loss for the Chiefs as he allowed them to be versatile within their base defensive front. For the Chiefs to win this year, they must control vertical field position with their defense and allow their offense to play on a short field and not have to go 80 yards for each score. The Chiefs do not have the offensive talent level to execute consistently, so their defense must control the game. If they don't, it will be a really bad year in Kansas City.
11. Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have 17 road wins counting playoffs. Don't think for a second they won't play well in Tennessee. Plus, Baltimore is coming off an impressive win against Pittsburgh, dominating in every phase of the game. Haloti Ngata was as good as any defensive lineman I have ever seen last week.
12. Miami quarterback Chad Henne deserves a medal of honor for the pounding he took last week against the Patriots. Henne was hit numerous times just as he released the ball and showed incredible courage and poise. He still struggles to throw the deep ball, but he has shown great improvement over last year.
13. I don't care what the Chargers say -- their offense really misses Darren Sproles and Ryan Matthews cannot fill that role. Matthews needs a clear path, but he is not as elusive or explosive in space. In fact, Mike Tolbert is the best back on the team.
14. The Vikings offense was awful to watch last week -- no imagination, no speed and not many places to throw the ball. Quarterback Donavan McNabb is taking the most heat, but coordinator Bill Musgrave, the wide receivers and the offensive line all had a bad week. This week against the Bucs, they must take a step forward, or it will go from bad to worse.
15. With eight starters over the age of 30 on defense, many feel the Steelers are too old to be the same team as they were last year. I am not buying it. Yes they are old, but they are still talented and still pressure the quarterback. Last week was bad, but I expect this week against Seattle will be much different.
Have a great weekend, and enjoy the games.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi