Michael Vick Can Stay Healthy in Chip Kelly's Eagles Offense, If He Plays Smart
Immediately after the Philadelphia Eagles put forth an incredibly dynamic offensive performance in Week 1 that had everyone in the NFL buzzing, football pundits, analysts and television attention seekers tried to figure out something that will go wrong.
Some sharp, hard-working pundits took to the game tape to study how new head coach Chip Kelly managed to systematically dismantle the Washington Redskins defense in the first half of Monday night's contest.
Others charted the speed of Kelly's offense, wondering if the pace of snapping the ball with only half the play clock gone will be hard to sustain for an entire season and asking if it puts too much pressure on the Eagles defense whenever a drive stalls.
Still, there were some who decided to pick at the low-hanging fruit. What could go wrong with Kelly's offense after just one game? The quarterback will get hurt, as noted by Charley Casserly on NFL Network, via NFL.com:
"We saw Vick limping around. Vick's not gonna last," Casserly, a former NFL general manager, said Tuesday on NFL Network's Around the League Live. "He's running the ball in this offense, he's not just handing it off."
Vick was seen limping at the end of Monday night's game, which led some naysayers (if you listen to talk radio in Philadelphia on Tuesday, it surely wasn't just Casserly suggesting this) to offer that the offense will not be sustainable because the man running Kelly's version of the read-option won't be able to stay on the field.
Here's the thing about picking low-hanging fruit: Sometimes you can be right. There's a good chance Vick won't be able to stay on the field the entire season, but it has very little to do with Kelly's offense. Plus, Vick's issues are entirely correctable if, and when, the veteran signal-caller fully buys in.
Since becoming the starter in Philadelphia in 2010, Vick has not been able to make it through an entire season healthy, playing in 35 of a possible 48 games over the last three seasons—and that was with Andy Reid's pedestrian offense.
After watching Vick run Kelly's more dynamic attack, it stands to reason that people may question what will happen when plays are called specifically putting Vick in the defensive crosshairs.
Kelly's offense doesn't exactly do that. The system is designed to exploit the holes in a defense, putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback to make quick decisions immediately after the ball is snapped. Yes, one of those decisions in many of Kelly's formations will be an option for the quarterback to keep the ball and run, but in almost every situation, that's the third or fourth (read: worst) option for Vick to take.
Even if Vick does run the ball more, it doesn't necessarily mean he's going to get hit a lot more, as Rich Hofmann of the Philadelphia Daily News pointed out:
The good people at ProFootballFocus.com chart quarterback hits, among other things. Last year, in about 9 1/4 games, Vick was hit 120 times, about 13 times per game - assuming, that is, that pretty much all of his runs, except for the kneel-downs, result in some kind of contract.
In this year's first game against Washington, the same people doing the charting said that Vick was hit...12 times.
Hofmann also noted that Kelly ran far more plays than Reid ever did, so Vick's percentage of hits to plays is actually lower than it was last year.
Vick was sacked 28 times and rushed the ball 62 times in 2012, so those numbers account for roughly four or five times per game when he was hit after releasing the ball.
While there are more options for Vick to run in Kelly's offense, the spread nature of the formations and quick decisions at the line of scrimmage should allow him to release the ball with less pressure than a traditional five- or seven-step drop.
Yes, Vick may get hit when he runs, and yes, the Eagles could run 100 offensive plays a game, which presents him with 20 or 30 more chances to get hit—and hurt—during a game, but the kind of hit Vick takes while getting tackled in the open field should be easier to recover from than taking a blindside crack in the back from an onrushing defensive end with a head of steam.
Vick may get hit more often, but the hits should not be as lethal.
The idea that Vick won't survive Kelly's offense also fails to acknowledge that while Vick was hit 12 times in the first game of the season, his offensive line—a strength of the team this year after the return of Jason Peters and the drafting of Lane Johnson—is only going to get better.
According to John Gonzalez at CSNPhilly.com, Kelly pointed out that his offensive line is still coming along:
It’s still a relatively new group together. Jason [Peters] missed some time in camp. Lane [Johnson] is a rookie. Everybody's getting together and learning a new system. So I was pleased. But we still have a lot of work to do and a long way to go with that group. But, again, like everybody, like our entire group, I liked their effort, but there are so many things we can still work on.
Vick was sacked three times in the 33-27 victory over Washington. The Eagles threw 25 times (making 28 total attempts if you add in the three sacks) to 49 runs, torching the Redskins on the ground to a tune of 263 rushing yards.
The offense will get more balanced as the Eagles' players, including Vick, get more comfortable running the system. Remember, Kelly wants the offense to get even faster.
There were several plays where Vick missed connecting with open receivers, opting for a secondary or tertiary read or deciding to pull the ball down and run it himself.
If Vick can manage to make quicker and better decisions with the ball, his rushing attempts should actually go down, suggesting he will get hit less in Kelly's offense than he did in the first game, which was already less than he was getting hit before.
Vick told reporters at practice this week, via CSNPhilly.com, that it felt good to get hit and that, despite limping at the end of the game, he felt fresh:
It was good to get hit. I didn't really get tackled too much in the preseason so it just prepares you for the weeks moving forward. After the [Redskins] game I was still feeling good—still feeling like I could play a couple of more quarters—so I'm just trying to continue with my endurance and continue to do all the right things that will keep me upright and keep me on the field.
One of the things that could keep Vick upright is finally developing a hook slide on his runs, but everyone knows that's never going to happen. Even Kelly admitted that, at 33 years old, Vick isn't suddenly going to start sliding.
The downfield blocking where Vick decided to join the play to help his running back, however, is something he can avoid. Vick becoming a blocker is not part of the offensive game plan for the Eagles, and Kelly didn't seem super-excited about Vick putting himself in harm's way when he's not supposed to be involved in the play.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur told reporters they've already addressed this with Vick, according to Hofmann at the Daily News:
I talked to him during the game, after the game, on Tuesday. I think it's important - the one thing that I admire about Mike is something that we've all seen. He's extremely tough, he's very competitive, and when the game is going on, he reacts to things like you want a football player to react. Now, we don't want him lead-blocking on sweeps, and so we told him, "Don't do that." So we assume he won't.
Truth be told, if history is any indication of what's to come for Vick, he will undoubtedly get hurt this year. Not only does he find ways to put himself in situations that might get him injured, he has always been brittle, especially in his time with the Eagles after two seasons away from the game.
The thing is that Kelly knows Vick might get hurt, so why would a guy who seems to have an answer for every challenge put in front of him not have an answer for that?
During training camp, backup quarterback Nick Foles had a legitimate shot at being named the starter to begin the season. Vick won the job, but the competition was close for nearly the entire duration of training camp.
That begs the question: If the Eagles offense can look as dynamic with Vick as it did during the season opener and Foles nearly won the starting job himself, will the production drop off that much if Vick gets hurt at some point this season?
Foles does not have the athleticism that Vick brings to Kelly's offense, but maybe Foles makes a better decision on a few of the reads that Vick missed against Washington. Maybe the offense would have one less dimension with Foles, but perhaps more precision. If the two were as close as Kelly suggested, he obviously has a plan if Foles is forced into action.
For now, Vick clearly looks like the best option at quarterback, but through one game, it looks like Kelly's system is the real star.
Well, the system and LeSean McCoy. If he gets hurt, the whole thing will fall apart.
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