Key areas Michael Vick needs to improve this Off-season
By: John View
You all have probably been battered to near death by the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick this past season with the news of his football revival and though intriguing, but worn-out redemption story. So instead of focusing on his past transgressions and the accomplishments of last season, we look forward to the 2011-12 season and what Vick needs to do to sustain, or possibly even exceed, his level of play from last season.
Remember while technically the whole league was in second place to Tom Brady’s unanimous win in the MVP race, throughout the season Vick was continually mentioned as a MVP candidate and this is only after two years removed from prison and one year as a full-time starter. Thus Vick has ample room to grow and improve his phenomenal play.
This is obviously the most exciting portion of the arsenal Michael Vick has to offer. Over the years, we have come to know Vick for his sometimes otherworldly scrambling ability and how he seemingly creates miracles from broken plays. During his Atlanta days, his scrambling was not only his second option but also his first and third options. Sorry give me one minute as I marvel at the still vivid memory of Vick spinning and scurrying past defenders as if he were a modern day Hermes, but with wings sprouting from his forehead instead of sandaled ankles, like the Greek messenger of the gods. And he was good at it. Very good.
Now fast forward to 2011, and his scrambling has not fallen off one bit. With Philadelphia’s suspect right side of their offensive line, Andy Reid noticed early that Vick’s style of play would best compliment the line’s weakness. Vick’s scrambling ability is what makes him one of the NFL’s most dangerous weapons, but it is also what makes him on the league’s biggest liabilities.
To improve next season, Vick should look to avoid tacklers and improve his sliding ability, one of the few abilities he admits is underdeveloped, consequently lowering his chance of injury and keeping him on the field longer.
We all applaud his toughness on the football field and his willingness to take hits for extra yardage but Vick will be 31 next season and his body will not be able to handle as much damage as it once did. But overall, this is the one portion of Vick’s game that needs the least improvement.
Handling the Blitz
During the beginning of last season, Vick torched defenses with not only his legs but also with his arm. Defenses could no longer sit back in coverage and force Vick to run, like they did in Atlanta. With a new dimension added to his game, defenses had to devise a new game plan to stop, or should I say limit, Vick’s productivity.
Thus the heavy constant blitz was introduced.The Week 12 31-26 loss to the Chicago Bears did exactly that and gave the rest of the league the template for deflating the Eagle’s high-powered offense. Vick’s numbers dropped to a good, but albeit not great level after the blitz was introduced. In the six games prior to Week 12 (not including Week 4 when Vick was injured vs. Washington and only attempted seven passes), Vick accounted for four games with 100.0+ QB rating versus only one after Week 12.
As a result, his QB rating dipped from 109.4 (in the games before Week 12) to 89.9. This mainly had to do with Vick having an 11:0 touchdown to interception ratio compared to an 11:7 TD ratio after Week 12. Versus the blitz Vick’s QB rating dipped to 90.5 and he had a 55 percent completion percentage, while throwing seven touchdowns to three interceptions.
When extra defenders were sent, he was also sacked a league-high 19 times. With the increased blitz Vick had less time to throw and had to make quicker decision which resulted in more mistakes, namely interceptions. Another stat that’s worth noting is his average rush yards per game before and after Week 12. Before Week 12, Vick was averaging 62.5 yards per game (ypg) with a 7.0 yards per carry (ypc) compared to 55.5 ypg and a 6.1 ypc after Week 12. While this may not be a big change it is worth noting because with the increased blitz Vick suffered various minor injuries which limited his running ability and ability to create from broken plays.
To improve, the Eagles obviously need to upgrade his protection first. Which they have shown a willingness to do so with the hiring of Howard Mudd, and it can be safely assumed the player personnel will be upgraded through either the draft or via free agency. With the legendary coach in tow and the possibility of a better line Vick should still expect teams to send extra rushers therefore he needs to improve his recognition ability.
During the off-season Vick needs to study the game tape of the blitzing defenses and not necessarily learn the opposing blitz packages, but learn to recognize when and from where the blitz is coming from. Doing so will allow him to be able to spot the holes in the defense more quickly and exploit the blitz thus possibly discouraging teams to blitz as much.
This is the one area Vick needs to improve in the most. Against the blitz Vick’s stats did drop but not to a level that warrants high concern. But for Vick to really improve this off-season he needs to improve his game management skills to the level of an elite quarterback. Improving how he manages the game will not only affect his performance but could ultimately lead to less significant injuries and greater statistical achievements.
His main area of concern pertaining to game management is his actions at the line of scrimmage. Vick needs to develop the ability to read defenses and audible properly in response. For him to do so he needs to have a full grasp of the offense and all of its intricacies, so if he does spot an extra rusher or two he will know which play to audible to nullify them.
For example if the defense is sending extra rushers and playing man coverage on the receivers with only one deep safety, at the line Vick needs to see this and utilize the speed of his receivers possibly calling an audible for one of the receivers to run a route which would result in a quick find for him or even a big gain deep. The Eagles tended to shy away from plays like the screen pass and the draw towards the end of the season, this can be mainly attributed to the play calling but some of this falls on Vick. An audible at the line to these plays will discourage defenses to constantly blitz because these are the types of plays that are designed to neutralize blitzes.
Even if Vick only learns how to audible to these basic plays after recognizing the blitz, it would help tremendously. Also as mentioned before, the offensive line’s performance last season was below average, to be kind. If Vick recognizes the defenses at the line he will have the opportunity to tell his linemen who and where to block.
This will be vital this next season because it is expected the line will have a few new faces that may need extra help in their adjustment period. Defenses do not fear this part of his game, because at the line Vick does nothing so they have grown not to expect anything from him in that aspect. By at least building a working set of game management skills it will increase his versatility and make it even harder for defenses to figure out how to stop him. If Vick demonstrates the willingness to manage the game at the line it could lead to the coaching staff having faith in him and thus allowing him more control of the offense.
I have touched on this area in the previous subjects, and while this is not an area of his game that can be statistically improved, it can be limited. This area is the biggest key to Vick’s improvement and MVP chances, because obviously you can’t improve if you’re not playing due to injuries. Also Vick’s ability to stay on the field directly affects how the Eagles’ management decides to handle the Kevin Kolb situation. Kolb wants to start, and deservedly so, but this can’t happen for two reasons.
The lockout and the chance of Vick being injured. If the lockout continues and a new CBA deal is not reached in a timely manner, with respect to the upcoming season, then Kolb will remain an Eagle next season whether he likes it or not. Kolb will be a professional and take it in stride, but the Eagle organization wants and needs to trade Kolb because of the commodities he can provide. His value is probably at its ceiling so trading him will most likely net major improvements to either the offense or defense.
The organization knows this but may be still hesitant to trade Kolb because of his value as a back-up quarterback. Vick essentially missed four games last season, and Kolb came in and led the Eagles to a 2-2 record. That’s a respectable record for a back-up QB, but think, if Kolb were to be traded, could Mike Kafka lead the Eagles to that same record? Those games proved to be essential down the stretch as those wins helped the Eagles make the playoffs. Vick needs to not only prove he can stay on the field, but also when on the field he can avoid the minor injuries that seem to inhibit his play.
Of Vick’s six seasons as a starter in the NFL, he has only played 16 games once so his track record does not suggest he can improve in this area. Hopefully with the continued growth of his new style of play, Vick can pick and choose his spots to scramble and when he does so hopefully he can avoid putting himself in danger and get on first name terms with Mr. Out-of-Bounds.
With the lockout, the ability for Vick to improve in these areas will be limited unlike in prior seasons. Since the start of the off-season, Vick should have already had hours of film study under his belt but he should take the initiative on his own and study without supervision and direction. By now I would assume the Eagle’s training staff has prepared the players for the lockout and given them the needed materials to continue to progress through the off-season. In Atlanta, Vick has admitted he would throw game tapes in the back of his car and never watch them even when coaches prodded him to do so. While he has more than shown a willingness to put in the extra work needed to improve, he needs to continue this commitment. He has stated he plans to do so with off-season workouts with his wide receivers.
Drastic improvement can and should be expected of him this coming season, not only concerning his play on the field but also continuing to keep his nose clean off the field. This should not be a problem for him and hopefully he invests needed time and money in himself as the Eagles shown committed to do so with him in the past. If Vick does so, the sky’s the limit for the Eagles.