Is a Healthy Michael Vick Good Enough to Boost the Eagles to the NFC East Crown?
Has faith been lost in Michael Vick? Does it take only one bad year to send a quarterback out to pasture? His peers seem to think so. We found out last night that the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback dropped 50 spots from No. 20 to No. 70 on NFL Network's annual list of the top 100 current players.
But Vick carried a less talented 2010 Eagles squad on his shoulders. Under the right circumstances and with the proper adjustments (and maybe a little luck), he can once again lead Philadelphia to a division crown.
And maybe more.
Vick struggled with three particular things in 2011: his decision making, his output late in close games, and injuries.
The decision making problem was obvious. His interception number increased from six to 14 and his turnover total shot up 100 percent from nine to 18. This is something that has hindered Vick for much of his career, only disappearing for a stretch during that magical 2010 campaign. I don't know if it's totally shakeable for a man who will be 32 this year, but it's clearly manageable if he keeps his head.
As far as late-game struggles go, Vick simply didn't make plays as games wore on last season. Six of his 14 interceptions came when the Eagles trailed by one score. In the same situation in 2010, he was intercepted just twice. And when down by one score in the fourth quarter, Vick's passer rating dropped from 116.1 in 2010 to 71.4 in 2011. He also failed to orchestrate a single fourth-quarter comeback (division-rival quarterbacks Eli Manning and Tony Romo combined for 11 of them).
And then, of course, there were the bumps and bruises. Despite standing behind an offensive line that emerged as one of the best in football as the season wore on, Vick took far too many hits throughout the season. He actually played in one more game, took 50 more snaps and took 11 fewer sacks than he did in the year prior, but his body couldn't handle the constant beating.
Give Vick credit for hanging tough and starting a few games that he would have been better off missing, but his toughness probably didn't help the team because he wasn't effective while bogged down by myriad injuries. There was the concussion and the broken hand and the injured finger and bruised ribs, all of which were initially triggered by hits taken in the pocket (so no pinning this on his tendency to take off).
In fact, Vick took off less often than ever in 2011, at least on a per-game basis. And it's no coincidence that his rushing attempts tapered off as games and the season and wore on.
Everything tapered off as the hits took their toll. Vick faded much more as games progressed in 2011 than he did during his gem of a 2010 campaign. His passer rating on his first 20 attempts only dropped from 99.5 to 88.0 between 2010 and 2011, but beyond 20 attempts it plummeted from 96.7 to 74.7.
It's probably safe to conclude that Vick's late struggles came down to support on offense. Despite their well-documented struggles, I don't think the defense will hold Vick back at all this year. Keep in mind that Juan Castillo's unit gave up fewer than 20 points in each of their last four games of 2011. They'll hit their stride in 2012.
Nope, Vick simply needs better protection and needs to be smarter with the football in and out of the pocket. He needs to remain capable of taking off and he can't get worn down. He can't limp onto the field with half an arm and three cracked bones and expect to carry this team.
Can he get that protection? As good as the interior of that offensive line is, and as good as his complementary weapons are, the tackle situation isn't pretty. Demetress Bell is a significant downgrade from injured All-Pro Jason Peters, who he's replacing on the left side.
Vick doesn't necessarily have to carry the Eagles on his shoulders, but they can't win anything of consequence and finally deliver on GM Howie Roseman's expensive investments this year unless Vick works on getting rid of the ball more swiftly and makes better decisions. Not having Peters might give this team another excuse for falling short of expectations, but Vick absolutely has the tools and the supporting cast to overcome that loss.
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