Vick, McNabb and the deep ball

Michael Vick was among the elite in throwing the deep ball in 2010. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)

The Eagles' 2010 season ended on a Michael Vick pass intended for rookie wide receiver Riley Cooper about 32 yards from the line of scrimmage.

Packers cornerback Tramon Williams leaped, picked it off and Green Bay was on its way to winning the Super Bowl.

While Vick's final deep ball was one he probably wishes he had back, overall, he was one of the league's better QBs at finding receivers downfield.

Pro Football Focus took a look at every quarterback in the league and evaluated how effectively they threw the deep ball - defined as passes that went 20 yards or more. Vick completed 41.5 percent of those throws, which was sixth-best in the NFL last season. The top five might surprise you: Vince Young, David Garrard, Matt Schaub, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees.

Vick took shots downfield more often than every quarterback except for Young. Sixty-five of his 408 attempts (15.93 percent) went 20 yards or more downfield.

Overall, he was intercepted five times on deep balls for an INT rate of 7.69 percent, which was middle of the pack. Eleven quarterbacks were intercepted more often than Vick on the deep throws.

By all accounts, with the help of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, Vick was one of the better big-play quarterbacks in the league last season. His 8.11 yards per attempt ranked fourth, and Vick completed 48 passes that gained 20+ yards, which ranked eighth. That second number is even more impressive, considering he was only one of two quarterbacks in the top 10 (Ben Roethlisberger) that attempted fewer than 400 passes.

I went back and looked at how Vick's big-play numbers compared to Donovan McNabb's over the years. How much has the passing offense changed with the addition of Jackson and Maclin?

Keep in mind that the following numbers are different from the ones above on Vick, which looked at balls that went 20 yards or more downfield.

The numbers below are plays that gained 20+ yards. In other words, if Jackson caught a screen near the line of scrimmage and took it for a 22-yard gain, that's counted. So look at the numbers below as more of a snapshot of the offense's identity than Vick's deep ball vs. McNabb's deep ball.

The first column in the following chart is pretty simple: yards per attempt. In the second column, instead of looking at total pass plays of 20+ yards, I looked at percentage of total pass attempts that were completions of 20+ yards, comparing Vick in 2010 to McNabb throughout his Eagles career.

  YPA Pct. 20+ plays
 Vick in 2010  8.1  12.9%
 McNabb in '09  8.0  12.4%
 McNabb in '08  6.9  9.1%
 McNabb in '07  7.0
 McNabb in '06
 8.4  13.9%
 McNabb in '05
 McNabb in '04
 8.3  10.7%
 McNabb in '03
 6.7  9.2%
 McNabb in '02
 McNabb in '01
 6.6  8.9%
 McNabb in '00
 5.9  7.9%

The first season that stands out is 2004. Terrell Owens had 20 receptions of 20+ yards that year, and Todd Pinkston averaged 18.8 yards per reception, third-best among receivers with at least 35 catches.

I was surprised to find that in 2006, McNabb had a higher yards per attempt number than at any other time in his career, and it was higher than Vick's in 2010 too. That year, Reggie Brown and Donte' Stallworth combined for 29 catches that gained 20+ yards, just five fewer than Jackson and Maclin in 2010. Brian Westbrook and L.J. Smith chipped in with nine apiece. And Hank Baskett averaged 21.1 yards per catch on 22 receptions.

It should be no surprise that the numbers have been up the past two seasons with Jackson and Maclin. I mentioned above that they combined for 34 plays of 20+ yards in 2010. And they combined for 29 of them in 2009.

One major difference in the past two seasons has been Brent Celek. He had 16 catches fo 20+ yards in 2009 (tied for 10th in the NFL), but only eight in 2010.

It's amazing, though, how similar Vick and McNabb's numbers were in these two categories the past two seasons.

Barring injuries, the Eagles will return the exact same set of offensive skill players in 2011. Assuming pass protection holds up, expect the Birds to once again count on the deep ball next season (or whenever football returns).

You can follow Moving the Chains on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook.