Saturday, December 20, 2014

Does Vick hold on to the ball too long?

During the 2010 season, Eagles quarterbacks were sacked 49 times.

Does Vick hold on to the ball too long?

Michael Vick´s tendency to extend plays by holding on to the ball often got him in trouble. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)
Michael Vick's tendency to extend plays by holding on to the ball often got him in trouble. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)

During the 2010 season, Eagles quarterbacks were sacked 49 times.

That was fourth-most in the NFL, behind the Bears (56), Cardinals (50) and Panthers (50). It was also tied for the most the Eagles had allowed since 1998 when Bobby Hoying, Koy Detmer and Rodney Peete were sacked 56 times.

While the offensive line certainly needs to improve, as I mentioned often during the season, there's more to sacks than just the five guys in front of the quarterback. Running backs and tight ends play an important role too.

And the quarterback needs to make quick, smart decisions - especially in those instances where the defense rushes more guys than the offense has blockers.

Which brings us to Mike Vick.

Vick was sacked 34 times last seasonim, fifth-most among NFL quarterbacks. The number looks even worse when you consider he missed four-plus games. But how many of those sacks were his fault? And how many were the fault of the offensive line, running backs or tight ends?

I plan on revisiting every one of the Eagles' 49 sacks to provide a detailed breakdown later this offseason, but J.J. Cooper provided some good insight in a recent piece on NFL Fanhouse.

Cooper looked at which quarterbacks held on to the ball the most last season. Specifically, he examined which quarterbacks were sacked the most when holding on to the ball for more than three seconds.

The Ravens' Joe Flacco led the way as he was sacked 25 times when holding on to the ball for more than three seconds.

Ben Roethlisberger (20) was second, Jay Cutler was third (19) and Vick was fourth (19). Cooper had Vick down for 32 total sacks and noted that 13 of those came when he had 3 seconds or less.

When looking at percentage of sacks that came when the quarterback had three seconds or more, here's what the numbers look like:

Joe Flacco
62.5%
Ben Roethlisberger
62.5%
Jay Cutler
36.5%
Michael Vick
59.4%

What do those numbers tell us? The majority of Cutler's sacks came when he really had no time. On 33 of the 52 plays where he was sacked, Cutler had three seconds or less.

Something else stands out: All four of these quarterbacks helped lead their teams to the playoffs. And while on the surface there might not appear to be much in common between Roethlisberger and Vick, there is something that links them here.

Roethlisberger is listed at 6-5, 241. Vick is listed at 6-0, 215. But both are among the most difficult quarterbacks to bring down. Both will fight off defenders, scramble and try to make plays.

In other words, holding on to the ball is part of what makes Roethlisberger and Vick effective. They can keep plays alive and demoralize defenses. So there is a certain give and take that needs to be acknowledged when looking at the numbers above.

Here are Vick's sacks per play on a down-by-down basis. Note: These are plays where he had the ball in his hands, but they could have been either Vick runs or passes.

First Down
1/35
Second Down
1/9.6
Third Down
1/8.6

As you can see, Vick was sacked once every 8.6 times he had the ball in his hands on third down. But Vick also did some of his best work on third down.

According to STATS.com, guess which three quarterbacks converted passing third-and-longs the best? Roethlisberger (45.1 percent), Vick (41.0 percent) and Flacco (38.6 percent). They might have held on to the ball for a long time, but they also had bigger payoffs than other quarterbacks.

Overall, Vick had a 96.9 QB rating on third down. But maybe more importantly, he hurt teams with his legs, averaging 9.3 yards per carry on third down. That was a full 2.5 yards better than his overall average of 6.8.

So what's the conclusion? I'm not sure there is one yet. Vick will continue to take some sacks because he's trying to be a creator and an imrpoviser. That's what makes him so dangerous. And that's something the Eagles will live with.

But protection needs to get better. And where Vick needs to improve is on plays where he knows the protection isn't going to hold up. Plays where defenses send more guys than the Eagles have blockers. Or plays where the defense overloads a specific side.

That's where Howard Mudd should be able to help. He's the offensive line coach, but he'll undoubtedly be called on to help Vick recognize pressure better. In case you're wondering, the quarterback Mudd used to be in charge of protecting, Peyton Manning, was sacked just once last year when holding on to the ball for more than three seconds.


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Sheil Kapadia Philly.com
About this blog
Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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Reach Sheil at skapadia@philly.com.

Sheil Kapadia Philly.com
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