Who's to Blame for Michael Vick's Dud in Week 3?

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Who's to Blame for Michael Vick's Dud in Week 3?
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

A solemn Michael Vick stood in front of the assembled media after the Philadelphia Eagles’ 26-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3 and accepted full responsibility for the offense’s poor performance.

Moments earlier at that same podium, head coach Chip Kelly had already shifted much of the blame for the quarterback’s inconsistency on to his offensive line.

Armchair QBs everywhere were left scratching their heads, wondering why DeSean Jackson—the NFL’s leading receiver coming into the game—wasn’t more involved.

The truth of the matter is all three areas had a hand in the unit’s failure to produce. Jackson drew a lot of attention from the secondary, while complementary targets such as Riley Cooper and Brent Celek had trouble creating separation. The pass protection did not hold up well against a strong Kansas City front, which contributed to all sorts of problems in the backfield.

Most of all, Vick made far too many bad decisions or simply was unable to execute.

There were in fact some open receivers and exploitable one-on-ones, yet Vick frequently didn’t see them or his throw missed its mark. The 11-year veteran often did have a pocket and time to scan the field but was slow going through his reads and took too long staring down his first or second option.

Not to crucify the man, but we’re not talking about minor things here. Vick’s interpretation of the quarterback position last Thursday night was fundamentally flawed, once again revealing the deep-rooted and expansive cracks in his foundation as a player.

 

Turnovers

Vick was charged with three of the Eagles’ five giveaways, but we’ll ignore the fumble late in the fourth quarter, seeing as the outcome had already been decided for all intents and purposes. Let’s focus on those two interceptions.

There’s not much to dissect on this first one. Here is Vick on a short dropback. There was a pocket, no need to panic. It was the offense’s third play of the game, so he was not uncomfortable or anything.

I guess he didn’t see Derrick Johnson trailing Celek or didn’t respect the linebacker’s ability to get to that spot. Regardless, the ball was tipped in the air, and Eric Berry had what amounted to double coverage. As a result, the safety got a gift. It was a pick-six, and Philadelphia was trailing the Chiefs by 10 less than four minutes into the game.

In case you’re thinking, “But Kulp, no one else was open,” note that the play hadn’t even had a chance to develop yet. Jackson and Cooper had one-on-one at the top and bottom with a single-high safety in the middle, and the ball was turned over so fast we don’t even know what routes they were running.

Interception No. 2 was plain old inaccuracy. Cooper was working against Sean Smith at the top, and the receiver would actually gain a step on the corner once he broke for the post. Notice Kansas City had a single-high safety again, so there was plenty of empty field ahead of Cooper.

Vick’s pass was woefully behind its intended target, however, and Smith was able to undercut the route with relative ease.

To be fair, even from the blimp’s eye view, you can tell the quarterback did not have a clean pocket from which to deliver the football. Pressure from Vick’s left forced him to step up and reset, but there was still not a lot of room to operate.

Which is why I cut these shots from earlier. This was the pocket on an earlier play where Cooper was running the exact same route against the exact same coverage.

This was the placement of that throw—behind Cooper, where the cornerback had a play on the football to force an incomplete pass.

Yes, the pocket was not perfect for Vick’s second interception, but that happens sometimes. NFL quarterbacks need to be able to make these adjustments and still place the ball in a window. Pass rush or no, No. 7 simply did not have the timing of this route down, so even though it should have worked, the Eagles were forced to remove it from the playbook.

 

Checkdowns

Here’s where Vick just says, “No, thank you.”

OK, so we’ve established there isn’t a lot of room for error when looking Celek’s or Cooper’s way, and not every pass attempt can be intended for DeSean Jackson. What if we were to presume every wide receiver and tight end the Eagles have is covered, and the quarterback doesn’t have all day to wait for someone to break free?

Most veterans will check down to their running backs in certain situations, but not Vick. Only one of his 30 pass attempts was intended for LeSean McCoy, and it was a screen. And as you are about to see, the checkdowns were there in Week 3.

Here’s a play where Vick was just going to get sacked for a loss of four; if he had got that ball out to Shady, all the All-Pro back would have had to do was beat one man to pick up a first down—at minimum. Which result would you rather have?

This is the down before the second interception. You can maybe forgive the QB for not getting the ball out to Bryce Brown in the flat right away, as outside linebacker Tamba Hali was coming free on the left side of the line—although Vick spent way too much time staring down Jackson before moving on.

Vick somehow escaped what looked like a sure sack, though, and now there was no one within 20 yards of Brown. So naturally, this pass was going to Cooper twice as far down the field, wearing a cornerback as if he were a cape, mind you.

I’m not sure why there is this need to force seemingly every attempt intermediate and long when the bigger play might be dumping it off. Chip Kelly preaches taking what the defense gives, but Vick wasn’t having any of it last Thursday.

 

Bad Reads

Then there’s a litany of downs where Vick has time in the pocket, one or multiple options, but seems oblivious to what’s happening around him—and in crunch time no less. This next two clips are both from the fourth quarter.

Here there were receivers breaking wide open all over the field. Vick liked Brent Celek working against two-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry. Berry isn’t the greatest cover guy in the world, but I’d call that a win for Kansas City as the ball sailed incomplete over the tight end’s head.

This time, Vick wound up scrambling for 14 yards, but he missed a much easier play—and potentially a much bigger one. Celek got a step on Brandon Flowers at the bottom, although that’s Kansas City’s best cover corner, so maybe a good idea to pull that one down.

Meanwhile, back at the top of the screen, Cooper was wide open and Vick never even looked in his direction. He should know his receiver has one-on-one there by simply counting the number of defenders on the right side of the field.

 

Now having gone down this long, winding road with Mike Vick, I’m not suggesting he be benched or anything that extreme over one poor performance. He played well enough in Weeks 1 and 2, and you can’t lose faith in your signal-caller that quickly.

Having said that, none of this is new with him. Vick is better than he was in his Atlanta days but remains a streaky passer for whom the bottom could drop out any given week—often for weeks at a time.

That’s what Chip Kelly and Eagles fans will be watching for in the coming weeks. Was Vick’s success the first couple games due in part to his picking on weak defenses that didn’t have any NFL tape on Philly’s offense, and he’s come crashing back to earth like he always does? Or can he rebound and learn from this dreadful showing?

Time will tell.

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