Not everyone is impressed with the way Michael Vick has performed in two and a half games this season.
Friend of the blog Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders writes that Vick has simply benefited from facing two of the league's worst pass defenses in Jacksonville and Detroit.
If Vick's improved as a player, the last two games haven't indicated that through his level of production on the field. He remains inefficient and erratic. He's improved his timing, but it's not as a passer.
While highlight shows featured what Vick did on his three completions of 42 or more yards, he was wildly ineffective at times. On Philly's first four drives, Vick had the 61-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson ... and otherwise went 2-of-8 for six yards with a sack. After an effective two-minute drill to get an 11-point lead, Vick led two possessions that combined for seven plays by going 2-of-4 for 22 yards and a sack, with both completions coming on third-and-long and ending up short of the sticks, leading to punts.
In the summer, Barnwell was kind enough to answer some questions for us about the Eagles. So I called on him once again to further explain his stance on Vick.
Here's the quick Q&A:
Q: You note that the Eagles have an easy slate of pass defenses remaining. But do we really know who the good pass defenses are going to be based on three games? Or is a lot of that based on last year?
Barnwell: We don't know for sure, of course, but I think we're getting there after three weeks of play. We can safely say that the Jags (31st in 2009, 31st before the Vick game) are pretty bad, I think. The Redskins were 20th last year and are 28th through three weeks; again, I think we can say they're probably not that great. On the other hand, take a team like the Titans - best pass defense in the league this year through three games, but 25th last year (after years of being successful). I might be inclined to think they're pretty good after three games, if not necessarily the best in the league.
Q: You write about Vick having stretches against Jacksonville where he was "wildly ineffective." But don’t most quarterbacks have some stretches like the ones you described throughout the course of a game?
Barnwell: To an extent, but not as bad, and not against such a bad pass defense. Take the Jaguars' first two games, for example. Philip Rivers never threw more than two incompletions in a row, and that happened one time. His success rate - the percentage of the time he picked up more than 40 percent of the needed yards for a new set of downs on first down, 60 percent on third down, or 100 percent on third/fourth down - was 68 percent. In Week 1, Kyle Orton only threw two incompletions in a row twice, and his success rate was 50 percent. Vick threw four straight incompletions at one point, had four stretches with back-to-back incompletions, and had a success rate of 39 percent.
Now, Vick made up for it by hitting bigger plays downfield, of course. The difference between what he did and what the other two guys did, though, isn't quite as large as you might think. The average Vick completion traveled 10.1 yards in the air. The average Rivers completion was at 8.2, and the average Orton completion was at 8.0. Having a high completion percentage is much more sustainable in the NFL than getting 10 yards in the air per completion, or throwing a touchdown every 15 attempts, or not throwing any interceptions.
Q: Does your evaluation take into account other variables – like drops, offensive line play, etc.?
Barnwell: We're not factoring in drops, no, but every quarterback has drops. I didn't see anything on Sunday that made me think that Vick had an significantly high number of drops relative to a league-average quarterback, but I'm not opposed to the idea of it being a possibility.
COLLINSWORTH AND SIMMS CHIME IN
Analysts Phil Simms and Cris Collinsworth debated Vick's play on Showtime's Inside the NFL.
"It is a great story. We talked about it two weeks ago. His legs are back," Simmms said, per a release from the network. "I’ll tell you what I learned watching him play Jacksonville this week. ...Andy Reid has tailored the offense to him. Get him back away from the offensive line, send the receivers deep down the field. He makes highlight throws, but also the big thing that really caught my eye when you let him get far back from the line of scrimmage, what happens? The defense expands, so does the pass rush. Now the running happens very naturally to him. I don’t think it was a great game by him in Jacksonville. There were four throws that were spectacular. The rest of it, it doesn’t matter. He’s a home run hitter and when he hits those home runs that brings in a lot."
Added Collinsworth: "He missed a lot of throws in that game, let’s be perfectly honest about this."
I wrote about Vick at length in Tuesday's feature. Did he miss some throws? Yes. But this is going to be a big-play offense because of the personnel. Vick was 3-for-5 on throws that traveled over 25 yards in the air from the line of scrimmage. And he was 5-for-9 on throws that traveled at least 16 yards from the line of scrimmage.
He's making plays on third down and it's hard to argue with 7-for-8 on converting red-zone trips into touchdowns.
I also think there are circumstances that go beyond Vick's play. By my count, the Eagles have dropped seven very catchable balls the last two weeks. And while DeSean Jackson had a monster game, he had a couple missteps - not getting two feet inbounds on the fairly routine catch near the sideline in the third quarter, and running backwards, costing the offense a first down on 3rd-and-15.
Plus there were the two Mike Bell run plays that were stuffed on 3rd-and-2 and 4th-and-1.
Barnwell notes that the Eagles likely won't face an above-average pass defense until the Titans in Week 7. And he likely won't face another one until the Cowboys in Week 12. If Vick beats up on below-average pass defenses all season, and leads the Eagles to an NFC East title or a playoff berth, I'm not sure it really matters which teams he did it against.
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