Michael Vick's performance against the blitz will be an enormous factor in determining the success of the 2011 Eagles offense.
That part you already know.
But it's important to note that simply blitzing Vick is not enough to stop him.
It is very much a high risk/reward proposition. I took a look at Vick's splits from ESPN.com/Elias Sports Bureau. Here's how performed when blitzed last season:
Vick's completion percentage, yards per attempt and quarterback rating are all down across the board, when you compare them to his overall numbers (62.6, 8.1 and 100.2).
Then again, his 91.8 rating was not as bad as you probably would have guessed. Only 10 QBs had an overall rating that was higher. And this number doesn't take Vick's running into account.
Scouts, Inc. recently ranked the top 200 players in the NFL. They had Vick at No. 90, but maybe more importantly, they had him as the ninth-ranked quarterback.
I took a look at the splits for the guys ahead of him. Here are how the numbers (completion percentage, yards per attempt, QB rating) against the blitz compared:
What does the chart tell us? Vick had the lowest completion percentage in the group, the second-lowest yards per attempt and the third-worst QB rating.
Although it's surprising that Peyton Manning was below him in two of those three categories.
Again, these numbers do not include Vick's rushing numbers, which were big. I'll try to chart how he hurt defenses with his legs against the blitz in the next week or so.
But during last season, I looked at Vick's numbers against the blitz on a weekly basis. While I don't have QB rating, I do have completion percentage and yards per attempt.
Note that I only counted games that Vick started and finished. He only attempted four passes against the Colts when they blitzed, and three against the Redskins, so those are not included.
What do these numbers tell us? At times, Vick burned defenses when they blitzed. Take a look at the yards per attempt numbers against the Jaguars (12.1), Bears (12.5), Texans (10.8) and even the Packers (11.2).
At other times, he was horrible. Against Dallas, Vick averaged just 1.45 yards per attempt and failed to complete a pass longer than 11 yards against the blitz. In the first game against the Giants, his numbers weren't much better.
The Bears gave Vick trouble, but not really when they sent extra pressure. He completed four passes of 20 yards or more against the blitz.
The second Giants game really showed the risk and reward I mentioned earlier.
Through three quarters, he had been blitzed 14 times. On those plays, Vick was 4-for-10 for 17 yards and an interception. He was also sacked three times and carried once for 1 yard for what was essentially another sack. The first 14 times the Giants blitzed, the Eagles' longest play went for 8 yards.
And then there was the fourth quarter.
The Giants kept blitzing - nine times in the final 15 minutes. On those plays, Vick was 3-for-6 for 88 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried three times for 90 yards. The Eagles had four plays of 20 yards or more against the blitz in the fourth quarter. Three were runs by Vick, and the other was a touchdown to Brent Celek.
The team that confused Vick more than any other was the Vikings during that disastrous Tuesday night game. On 10 of the 31 plays the Vikings blitzed him, Vick failed to even attempt a pass. On those plays, Minnesota sacked him five times and forced two fumbles. Vick ran for positive yardage on five occasions, but he didn't have a run of more than 8 yards against the blitz.
Surprised by the numbers against the Packers? In that playoff game, Vick completed five passes of 15 yards or more against the blitz, and two for 25 yards or more.
There's no question that Vick needs to improve against the blitz. Stretches like those he went through against the Vikings, Giants and Cowboys cannot happen again if the Eagles want to get to the Super Bowl.
While he certainly focused on this area of his game at Lehigh, there's no telling how much Vick will improve in 2011. We often have talked about how rookies and second-year players were hurt by the lockout, but Vick has to be included in that group too. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg helped him reshape his game in 2010, but he really could have benefited from a full offseason of work with them.
As he prepares for his first full season as the Eagles' starter, I'm convinced of a few things with Vick. His teammates respect and like him as a leader. He can be an accurate passer. And he will scare defenses on a weekly basis because of his legs and his unique skill set.
Where the Eagles need to see improvement is in his decision-making. When receivers were open last season and Vick made the right decision, his throws were usually on-target. The problems occurred when he didn't know where to go with the ball, when he panicked and took off too early, when he tried to force things. Or more clearly, when he didn't know what he was looking at. A lot of that has to do with what happens before the ball is even snapped.
Defenses now have a full year of tape on Vick 2.0. You can be sure opposing coordinators will pay attention to that Vikings game and some of the others. As Vick adjusts, so will opponents. The goal? To find a balance between his unmatched athleticism and being a quarterback.
Above all else, Vick's continued development will likely tell the story of the 2011 Eagles.
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