As Michael Vick waltzed into the Redskins’ end zone for the second time of the night, he was at the absolute peak of his career. After hanging 59 points on a division rival in just three quarters of play, Vick established himself as the most dangerous offensive weapon in the game.
Fast-forward two-and-a-half years, and Vick is in a fierce battle just to keep his job.
There is a laundry list of reasons as to why Vick turned in his worst season as an Eagle in 2013, but ultimately, he needs to fix the mistakes he made last year immediately if he even wants the chance to make the same ones in 2013.
How has Vick gone from being the most feared weapon in the NFL to borderline backup material in such a short amount of time?
Many have blamed Vick’s supporting cast—particularly his offensive line—for his recent struggles, but many of his mistakes are independent of how well the big five are playing up front. Since his breakout 2010 season, Vick is starting to make more and more mistakes that are often reserved for rookies, not a seasoned veteran.
When watching Vick, there were many cases in which he would make predetermined reads before the snap. In other words, he would decide where he wanted to go with the ball before the ball was snapped and refused to adjust when necessary.
Here is a prime example in which Vick passes on what could have been a huge gain (or even a touchdown) because he already determined where he was going to go with the ball.
In this case, Vick had already decided that he was going to tight end Clay Harbor.
Harbor runs a simple curl route that is easily covered by the linebacker, who is able to break up the pass. There was also safety help (out of the screen) in case of a catch and broken tackle.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the field, DeSean Jackson is running a drag route that clears out an entire side of the field. Because the safeties are cheating over as they read Vick’s eyes, there is only one cornerback, Joe Haden, in the area to cover two receivers.
If Vick took the time to scan the field, he would have seen Jackson wide open with a ton of space to work with. With Jackson’s speed, this play could have easily been a long touchdown. Instead, the Eagles have to settle for an incompletion, because Vick decided he was going to throw to Harbor before the play even started.
In this play, Vick makes the same error again. Except this time, it is in a much more critical situation in the red zone.
Vick locks on to Brent Celek over the middle, while he had a wide receiver matched up one-on-one on the outside.
Vick tries to force the ball to Celek, but he is instantly greeted by lurking linebackers who are able to jar the ball loose to cause the incompletion.
The better option would have been to hit the receiver running a streak route (or a nine route) in a one-on-one situation, which would have been at least a 50 percent chance of scoring a touchdown.
These are the kind of mistakes that are common in rookies, but Vick appears to have regressed in this area as a seasoned veteran.
Perhaps, the constant pressure and the amount of hits he has taken over the past few seasons has made the game seem much faster than it once was, or perhaps, he simply does not trust his teammates to be in the right position all the time and locks onto the primary receiver whenever the pre-snap picture is not clear to him.
Either way, this is an area that Vick must correct if he wants to produce like he did in 2010.
Getting Rid of the Ball
Vick is well known for his great athleticism and gifted arm, but he does have limitations with his release time, which made him a rather poor fit in Marty Mornhinweg’s offense in Philadelphia.
According to Jimmy Kempski of Eagles Insiders, Michael Vick’s release had an average release time of 3.0 seconds on 431 dropbacks. This time includes all time elapsed between the snap and a throw, sack or scramble that reached the line of scrimmage.
Here's how long it took Michael Vick to get the ball out on his 10 picks: 4.5, 4.1, 3.3, 3.2, 6.6, 2.9, 3.6, 3.7, 1.7, 2.4. Avg of 3.6.— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) February 16, 2013
Only three quarterbacks were slower than Vick: Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick—all of whom spend more time scrambling than any other quarterback. Kempski notes that unlike these younger quarterbacks, Vick rarely was asked to tuck and run the ball on his own by design.
@Jimmy_Beast Wilson- 3.35, Kaepernick- 3.18 & RG3- 3.07. All read option, first year starters.— John Castellane (@PFF_Castellane) February 16, 2013
In other words, Vick wasted more time sitting in the pocket than just about any other quarterback in the league.
In this example, Vick has two wide-open receivers coming out of their breaks, and Vick has room to throw—but he hesitates to pull the trigger.
As a result, Vick is sacked for a 10-yard loss.
Only Vick knows the reason why he didn’t let it loose—perhaps, he did not trust what he was seeing, or he thought the pressure was closer than it was.
Either way, Vick needs to find a way to get rid of the ball much faster, especially in Chip Kelly’s high-tempo offense.
Stopping the Turnover Machine
No matter how many improvements Vick makes as a passer, no coach is going to let him see the field if he cannot stop turning the ball over on a regular basis.
According to ESPN, teams that lose the turnover battle win just 14.8 percent of the time. There are a lot of people to blame for the Eagles’ failures over the past two seasons, but no team is going to wind up with a playoff-caliber record when they face such daunting odds of success week in and week out.
Mark Sanchez is known as the turnover king of the NFL—having led the league in the category over the past two seasons. However, had Vick not missed so many starts due to injury, he could have seized the unwanted title from Sanchez with ease.
With the starting quarterback handing the ball over more than two times per game, the defense needs to get at least two turnovers of their own to have an even chance at winning the game—while hoping none of the other players on offense or special teams has a gaffe of their own.
Why is Vick having such a tough time taking care of the football? His problem mostly lies in the amount of fumbles he committed, as he averaged less than one interception per start. Plus, fumbles are much more preventable than interceptions—anything from a tipped pass or an incorrect route can lead to one.
More specifically, Vick has a bad habit of holding the ball in one hand, leaving himself vulnerable to getting stripped. The fact that he was working behind the seventh-worst pass protecting line in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, only compounds the issue.
The Eagles are hoping that the addition of first-round pick Lane Johnson and the return of Jason Peters will reverse their protection woes, but Vick needs to be more aware of the finer details of handling the football to give his team a chance to win.
Considering just how popular he was during his peak year as an Eagle, the decline of Michael Vick is difficult to comprehend—even after taking a closer look at his flaws.
The good news for Vick is that many of these problems can be easily corrected. Clearly, Vick has the talent to start in the NFL, but he needs to clean up some of his decision-making and handling skills in order to become a more effective player that is not as prone to turn the ball over on a regular basis.
With a wide-open competition looming for Vick in training camp, it remains to be seen whether or not Vick's career as a starter will continue uninterrupted, or if Chip Kelly will relegate him to the bench.
If Vick is able to fix these flaws and get back to being the unstoppable force he was just a few short years ago, this competition should not even be close. Otherwise, the changing of the guard at quarterback in Philadelphia may happen much sooner than anyone could have predicted.
Advanced stats provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).