Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Ways to Overcome a Michael Vick Injury
It's unfair to say that Michael Vick will miss time in 2012 to injury, but it is pretty likely. He hasn't started all 16 games in a season since 2006, and he hasn't suffered a major injury that kept him out of more than four games except during the 2003 season.
Vick is a small quarterback at around 6'0" and 215 pounds. He isn't built to take a heavy amount of punishment like Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton are. He has a history of concussion, hand and rib injuries which give him the label "injury prone."
The Eagles were 7-3 in 2011 when Michael Vick started and finished the game injury free. The Eagles were 1-5 when he was injured or didn't play at all. Vick is too injury prone for the Eagles to not to be prepared for a possible fall.
Every team should be prepared for any player to go down to injury; you can't let one player decide the fate of your season. Their will be many factors regarding the Eagles surviving a Michael Vick injury. Here are the five biggest factors.
1. Prevent the Injury in the First Place
It seems simple enough. You don't have to overcome a Michael Vick injury if the injury never occurs. Most people agree that he will miss at least a couple games in 2012, but that isn't a lock.
The keys to Vick staying healthy for a full season will be his running game, new left tackle Demetress Bell and how quickly he gets rid of the ball. The majority of Vick's vicious shots come when he tries to do too much. When you watch a player like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning, one things always sticks out. Their ability to get the ball out very quickly. You can't rack up hits on a quarterback if he gets rid of the ball in two seconds or less.
The Achilles injury that Jason Peters suffered last spring was a tough one for the Eagles to take. He was the top left tackle in the game. He faces the top pass rushers on a weekly basis, and he holds his own. Now the Eagles will be trusting a newbie to protect Vick. Demetress Bell was signed as a free agent this offseason to win the left tackle job after Peters was lost for the season.
The left tackle position is slight different for the Eagles then it is for most NFL teams. Vick is a lefty, so the left tackle spot doesn't protect his blindside. But the left tackle still faces the best pass rushers the majority of the time, and Vick won't stay healthy with a mediocre player at left tackle. Bell doesn't have to be as good as Peters was, but he can't become a liability on the offensive line either.
Vick's injury isn't an inevitability, but it is likely. There are several steps the Eagles can take to prevent one. Even if he does miss time, these steps will keep him healthier and fresher for the stretch run in December and the playoffs in January.
2. Run the Ball!
You want to survive a season in which your quarterback misses significant time due to injury? It's not about winning with a backup quarterback, it's about winning without an elite quarterback. The Ravens did it with Trent Dilfer, the Bucs did it with Brad Johnson and the Redskins did it three times with good but not great quarterbacks. What did they have in common?
A running game.
The Eagles have the potential to have a really good running game. They have one of the best running backs in the game, LeSean McCoy, and a couple of good young backs in Dion Lewis and Bryce Brown.
McCoy gets all the love from fans and critics alike for his ability to make people miss in the open field, but he is a little underrated as a power runner. According to Football Outsiders, McCoy leads the league in broken tackles with 50. His strong lower body and quick feet make him a complete back.
Dion Lewis is a similar player to McCoy, also possessing quick feet and a strong lower body. He isn't nearly as polished as McCoy is, but he can be a nice compliment to him for five or six carries a game.
Bryce Brown isn't a similar player to McCoy and Lewis. He is a bigger back at 6'0", 220, and he has more straight line speed, running a 4.37 at his pro day last spring. He is more comparable to Adrian Peterson than he is LeSean McCoy. He has to make the roster first as a seventh round draft pick, but if he does, the Eagles could have three really good running backs to hand the ball off too.
The key to a successful running game these days isn't one dominant back, it's two or three really good ones. You want to spread the carries around multiple backs so you can keep them fresh throughout the game and season.
The Eagles have the players to be a successful running offense. There is no reason why the Eagles should be running any less than 30 run plays a game. A solid running game keeps your quarterback upright and takes the pressure off of a backup quarterback when the starter is out.
3. Mike Kafka
Everyone knows that the best way to overcome an injury to your starting quarterback is to get solid player out of your backup quarterback. Andy Reid could write a book on this. Twice during his tenure with the Eagles, he saw his starting quarterback go down to a major injury in the 11th week of the season.
Both times the backups went 5-1 to finish off the regular season.
Mike Kafka came in relief of Michael Vick twice in 2011 while Vince Young made three starts for Vick during the season as well. In those five games, the Eagles went 1-4. Neither backup looked like a starter during the 2011 season. Kafka completed some nice short passes in his first stint of relief in Week 2, but he never showed the ability to throw the deep ball while Vince Young just looked awful at best.
Now Young is out and Mike Kafka is the clear cut backup quarterback, assuming he beats out Trent Edwards for the job. Kafka has a really quick release and a pretty accurate arm. He moves well in the pocket and anticipates the blitz like a 10 year vet. All that is nice and all, but when defenses don't believe you can throw a good deep ball, they will play close to the line and take away the short passing game.
This is the area of his game I think he has shown the most progress this summer. He is using his legs to help him the drive the ball deeper and more accurately, and he appears to have added a few pounds of upper body strength. We won't know for sure if he can throw a good deep ball until we see him in preseason.
Kafka is now a veteran of this offense. He has seen some action during the regular season and is now entering his third year in the offense. He knows the playbook and has a feel for the speed of the game. Andy Reid can take comfort in his ability to come through should Vick get knocked out yet again. He had success with Jeff Garcia, Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley as a backup; maybe it's Mike Kafka's turn.
4. The Play of Jason Avant, Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin
DeSean Jackson is the star of the Eagles' receiving core. He makes big plays, and he just signed a big pay raise. He is a superstar, but he won't be the most important receiver if Vick goes down. The success of Mike Kafka as a starter will be determined by his possession receivers.
Jason Avant is a gifted slot receiver with good agility and great hands. He runs crisp routes and is a perfect receiver down the middle of the field.
Brent Celek is emerging as one of the better pass catching tight ends in all of football. He isn't as explosive as Jimmy Graham or Vernon Davis, but he is consistent.
Jeremy Maclin is hardly just a possession receiver with all that speed, but he has the hands and toughness to play the role.
These three receivers will be critical for the Eagles without Vick in the lineup. Kafka doesn't have the big arm that Vick has, so he will need to make crisp throws over the middle of the field to make up for it. He will need his receivers to maintain position over the middle of the field and to hold on to the football when they get their hands on it.
When a starting quarterback goes down, it's up to the rest of the offense to step their game up. These three receivers will be a vital should Vick miss time in 2012. Kafka won't move the football on a 50 yard bomb, but you will see a lot of five to 15 yard passes over the middle of the field and near the sidelines.
Receivers that can't get open and can't hold onto the ball will lead to a lot of stalled drives. These lead to more pressure on the backup which then leads to turnovers and losses.
Ever seen a backup quarterback be a success with a bad defense? The answer is no. The offense isn't as fluid with a quarterback who spent most of his summer working with the backups. He isn't the start for a reason so there will be a drop-off in ability.
That means that the defense has to step up or keep it up depending on the situation. The Eagles were a perfect example of this last season. The Eagles won their only game in which Michael Vick didn't play in Week 11 against the New York Giants. They upset the Giants on the road 17-10. They held the Giants rushing attack to under 40 yards while Eli Manning had just one touchdown and only completed 51 percent of his passes.
The Eagles overcame three interceptions from Vince Young in that game. In today's NFL you don't win too many games when your quarterback turns the ball over three times, let alone your backup quarterback.
Defenses are always key when the starting quarterback is out. They have to keep the opponent out of the end zone and under 20-24 points. Backups rarely win shootouts. The lower scoring the game is, the better. Short fields and forced turnovers are also a huge advantage for a backup quarterback.
If the Eagles' defense can be as good as most people believe it will in 2012, the Eagles can win a lot of games without Vick. This is a defense that looked lost at times in 2011 but found themselves during a 4-0 stretch over the final four weeks where they only allowed a total of 46 points during that span. They also racked up a total of 50 sacks which tied for first in the league.
This defense is expected to be real special in 2012, and they will have to be if they want to survive another stretch of games without their play maker at quarterback.