Mike check: Vick's performance vs. Packers
Did the Packers confuse Michael Vick with their blitz just as the Giants and Vikings did? The numbers might surprise you.
Mike check: Vick's performance vs. Packers
Michael Vick completed 20 of 36 passes for 292 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the Eagles' playoff loss to the Packers.
At times, he was very good. And at times, he struggled. But the performance against Green Bay was much different than the performances against the Vikings and Giants (for three-plus quarters) late in the season.
Here's the final breakdown of how he played.
As always, let's start with pass distribution.
During the regular season, Avant averaged 4.75 targets per game, but it's only mildly surprising that Vick looked to him more than any other receiver. As I wrote before the game, the Packers were vulnerable in the middle of the field in their Week 17 game against the Bears. In that game, Chicago's slot receiver, Rashied Davis, got the most targets. Avant had a strong game, catching seven balls for 93 yards to lead all receivers. The numbers could have been even better, but Avant wasn't able to come up with a ball that was thrown slightly behind him on a third down in the third quarter. Earlier, Vick threw way behind him. In other words, he was open on all nine targets.
Maclin had a very nice YAC game. The Eagles were successful in attacking the middle of the field on crossing routes. Maclin had the 44-yard gain in the first half. He had a drop on a slant, and also had a chance on a deep ball, but couldn't wrestle it away from cornerback Sam Shields.
I've heard people complain that the Eagles didn't run enough screens, but they actually tried three of them. They were just not successful. McCoy fumbled on one, picked up 5 on another, and the third was incomplete. I asked McCoy last week if teams had been better prepared for the screen game late in the season. He said he didn't think so, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Defenses clearly saw something on tape that alerted them to when the Eagles were running screens. You could just see it late in the season in the way opponents reacted.
Jackson was clearly not at 100 percent after the early injury. Vick looked for him on a deep ball, but Jackson didn't have a step. He had a drop in the red zone, and Jackson's first reception didn't come until there were less than nine minutes left in the game. I still say he had a good chance of scoring on that 29-yard catch on the final drive had he been healthy.
Celek and Cooper each had a pair of catches. Overall, six receivers were targeted. No targets for Jerome Harrison, Owen Schmitt, Clay Harbor or Chad Hall.
THE BLITZ, PRESSURE, SHOTGUN, ETC.
As has been the case for weeks (months?), this is the section that tells us the most about how Vick played.
The Packers blitzed on 17 of 44 dropbacks (38.6 percent). That's actualy quite a bit less than the Vikings (53.4 percent) and the Giants (48.9 percent) in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively.
Now, keep in mind what I'm defining as a blitz here. I'm counting any play where the Packers rushed more than four players. The Packers often had several players in the box and disguised who they blitzed and who they dropped back. But if they ended up only rushing four, I didn't count it as a blitz.
Now comes the interesting part. Vick actually performed well when Green Bay blitzed. He was 7-for-13 for 144 yards against the blitz. He was sacked twice had runs of 11 yards and 2 yards also.
I wrote last week that the Eagles needed to hit on big plays against the blitz, and they did that. Vick completed passes of 18, 44, 19, 19 and 28 yards on plays where the Packers blitzed. He averaged 11.07 yards per attempt; against the Vikings, Vick averaged just 5.8 yards per attempt against the blitz. On throws to Jackson, Maclin and Avant against the blitz, Vick was 7-for-10 for 144 yards.
Many want to blame the offensive line, but the truth is the protection held up pretty well for Vick. Were there lapses? Sure. He was sacked three times. But overall, he had time to sit in the pocket and find receivers, who did an excellent job of finding openings and running shorter routes.
The game-plan was actually pretty good. Vick operated almost exlusively out of the shotgun, and the Eagles stayed away from play-action, which takes a longer time to develop. When it came to recognizing the pressure and making quick decisions, rather than fleeing the pocket, I thought Vick's performance was night and day when compared to the Vikings game.
The Eagles had three drops, and Vick missed throws. He threw behind Avant twice, and he grounded one to Celek after rolling to his right. Even on the last throw - the interception intended for Cooper - the problem was with the execution of the pass, not the decision.
THIRD DOWN, RED ZONE
As a team, the Eagles were 5-for-13 on third down. On 12 of those occasions Vick had the ball in his hands. He was 5-for-7 for 44 yards on third down. The nicest throw was the one over the middle to Avant for 21 yards on 3rd-and-14. Vick was sacked once on third down and ran four times for 18 yards.
Strangely, Vick didn't throw to Jackson or Maclin at all on third down. Four of his attempts went to Avant, two to Cooper and one to McCoy. Against Minnesota, he targeted Jackson more than any other receiver on third down and was 0-for-5 on those throws.
The Eagles got just 10 points on three red-zone trips. The Packers got 21. In many ways, that was the difference in the game.
On their first trip inside the Green Bay 20, Jackson had a costly drop on second down, and the Eagles ended up settling for a field goal. On the second trip, McCoy was unable to convert a 3rd-and-1 as Clay Matthews beat Winston Justice and brought him down short of the first. And on the third trip, Vick ran in for the touchdown.
Overall, Vick was 2-for-4 for 18 yards in the red zone. He was sacked once and carried three times for 3 yards and a score.
SUCCESS BY DISTANCE
Here's a chart of Vick's throws by distance. I used the same ranges that Football Outsiders uses so we'd have a point of reference. Short is 5 yards or less. Mid is 6 to 15 yards. Deep is 16 to 25 yards. And Bomb is more than 25 yards. These are measured from the line of scrimmage to the point where the ball is touched, hits the ground or goes out of bounds.
On the surface, it looks like Vick dumped the ball off a lot, but that's not really the case. He hit the receivers often on short patterns that allowed them to run after the catch. Six of the 11 short completions were to Jackson, Maclin and Avant. And that was a good way to counter the Packers' pass rush.
Vick hit three deep balls - two to Avant and one to Maclin. He attempted three bombs, but didn't connect on any of them. Jackson did not have a catch that was made more than 5 yards from the line of scrimmage.
There were several factors that led to the Eagles scoring just 16 points (not necessarily in this order):
* David Akers' two missed field goals.
* Three drops by receivers.
* Missed throws by Vick.
* Jackson's early injury.
And one that we sometimes forget to mention: the Packers.
Green Bay finished the regular season having allowed 15.1 points per game. That wasn't just good; that was elite. Only the Steelers allowed fewer. Opponents averaged a QB rating of 65.3 against Green Bay; that was tops in the league.
The Packers have an elite pass rusher in Matthews and an elite blitzer in Charles Woodson. Their cornerbacks on the outside are very good, and they were well-coached. In the regular season, Green Bay had six games against playoff teams. Only the Eagles and Patriots scored more than 17 points in those matchups.
This is not meant to be an excuse for Vick and the Eagles' offense. It's more to show that they could not afford all the mistakes I mentioned in the bullet points above and still win the game. The coaching staff might be taking heat, but really, the gameplan was sound. The execution was not.
Do Vick and the offense need to work on improving against the blitz? Yes. No question about it. They struggled in that respect against Dallas, the Giants and Minnesota.
But there were signs against the Packers that Vick is capable of improving and adjusting. That has to be encouraging to the coaching staff and the fans.
The offseason could be tricky in terms of Vick being able to spend quality time with the coaches and working to improve his game, but I still expect him to be back in 2011 (assuming there's football). And if he shows early next season that he's able to burn teams that blitz him, some offensive coordinator on one of the Eagles' opponents will come up with another wrinkle to confuse him. And Vick will have to show he can adjust to that.
He turns 31 in June, but Vick's commitment and ability to show he can beat those new wrinkles will determine how the final chapters of his book as a quarterback in the NFL are written.
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