Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Ways Michael Vick Can Continue to Bounce Back in 2011-'12
After a breakout 2010 campaign in which Michael Vick had by far the best season of his career, Vick has hardly looked like the same player in 2011.
The potential to be great has always remained: the big arm, the elusiveness and the tenacity that makes him a dangerous player.
On Sunday night against the New York Jets, one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, Vick also completely lived up to this potential that he had always showed. He beat the Jets defense with his arm, and when flushed out of the pocket he made the Jets pay—and dearly.
Yet Vick has certainly regressed this year.
While sports pundits touted him as a changed player and that the "New Michael Vick" was good enough to perhaps take his place among the elite quarterbacks in this league, it seems like the "Old Michael Vick" has been on the field way more often.
Vick has shown numerous instances of questionable decision-making, poor ball security/being turnover-prone and an inability to stay healthy. All of the worst fears for Vick were realized in the 2011 season and certainly contributed to the disappointing 6-8 record for the so-called "Dream Team."
Vick has every potential to become an elite quarterback and to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to the promised land, but as with most players in this league, he has some very real flaws.
Vick had an impressive game against the Jets, but here are five aspects of Vick's game that he must address if he wishes to continue to bounce back in 2011 and 2012...
1. Get Rid of the Football More/Faster
Despite the stellar performance that Vick had against the Jets on Sunday night, there was still a play in the third quarter where Vick looked to pass, saw no one open, then scrambled to the left and, finding no running room, scrambled back towards the right before finally heaving the football out of reach—and took a nasty hit in the process.
Vick was slow to get up, but was merely shaken up and ended up being okay. But it is this reluctance to quit on a play that ends up hurting the team.
Vick is a competitive player and has a tremendous amount of confidence in his athletic abilities. He will be the last person to give up on a play and will do anything in his power to keep a play alive, even if it means getting one hard-earned yard.
But this determination, however commendable, exposes Vick to more hits. This of course increases his chance of injury. But most notably, it can upset his rhythm as a quarterback.
Football is all about rhythm and timing. As tough as a player as Vick may be, even the greatest quarterbacks may struggle when hit often, and hard.
Once the rhythm's off, the quarterback ends up throwing before he normally would, resulting in incompletions, interceptions and just bad decisions in general.
Great quarterbacks are willing to give it all for victory, but great quarterbacks also know when to give up on a play and live to see another down.
Vick is currently a good quarterback. But to become a great one, he must be willing to change this aspect of his playing style.
2. Take More Sacks
Similar to the previous point, Vick must fight the temptation to keep the play alive and know when he simply has no choice but to concede to the pressure and again live to see another down.
A big part of what made Vick such a great player in 2010 was his calmness in the pocket, compared to originally anointed starter Kevin Kolb. Kolb has always been rather jumpy in the pocket, which has resulted in many forced passes.
But Vick, surely keeping the teachings of head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg in mind, took what the defense gave him. And when the O-line struggled, he took the sacks when he had to.
But if we were to fast-forward towards the second half of the season, we may recall Vick slowly regressing more and more towards his Atlanta Falcons self. Less willing to stand in the pocket and take the sack, and looking more to take off with his legs and make the play himself.
Let's fast-forward a bit farther, to December 26, 2010, the second-to-last game of the season against the Minnesota Vikings.
With pressure in his face, Vick sought to try to make the big play rather than take the sack. But this time his legs failed him, and the defender knocked the ball free from his grasp, recovering the fumble for a touchdown return. That play would ultimately snatch the momentum away from the Eagles and blow their chances of getting a first-round bye.
While it is always great highlight-reel material to see a quarterback evade pressure and break a big play with his legs, it is not prudent when it puts him more in position to fumble the ball or to take harder hits.
It is time for Vick to learn when to concede to the pressure and not to expose his body to more dangerous hits when on the run.
3. Remembering to Slide
This has been a criticism of Vick's playing style ever since he first came into the league, but it is a very crucial aspect of his game that must be fixed.
Vick is a runner and he always will be. Regardless of the improvements he has made as a pocket passer, he always will be remembered for his legs and not his arm. With that in mind, any good scrambling quarterback must learn how to slide and protect himself from hard hits.
Vick always has been reluctant to slide, claiming that he was afraid of hurting himself by doing so feet first, preferring his own personal technique of getting down.
That is fine.
To me it makes little difference if he gets to the ground with picture-perfect technique, but he must get down when he sees defenders in front of him. It seems that Vick's playing style tends to favor muscling for a few extra yards when defenders approach—but this can expose Vick to either harder hits, or to more opportunities to have the ball knocked loose.
Therefore, it matters little difference to me if Vick is going to slide feet first or head first or sideways or whatever. But he must get down. Or he must run out of bounds.
He is the franchise player of the Eagles organization and was paid a contract of over $100 million. He must protect himself for the good of the franchise.
4. Fewer Forced Passes
In 12 games with the Eagles last season, Vick threw only six interceptions. One season later, he has thrown 13 interceptions in only 11 games.
True, many of the interceptions were not Vick's fault. The overall lackluster play of the entire team has seen many passes bounce of the hands of receivers and into those of defenders. Nevertheless, Vick needs to pick better places to throw the ball.
While his accuracy has increased by leaps and bounds Vick is still not an accurate passer. He will never have the precision to thread a pass in a tight window. He has a cannon arm, not a precise one.
With that in mind, Vick should not be forcing so many passes into zone coverage. Often the passes would land in the hands of the receiver, only bounce into the air for a pick. That is ultimately not Vick's fault and is instead the receiver's inability to secure the football.
But by choosing to throw into tighter coverage, passes such as those are innately riskier, with more chance for something to go wrong and for the ball to end up in the hands of the opponent.
This is not to say Vick should not be bold with the football.
No quarterback can be ever be considered great if he is overly conservative and is not willing to make tough passes. But in general Vick should be more mindful of where he is throwing and decrease the likelihood of something going awry.
5. Continue to Learn the Offense and Become a More Cerebral Passer
One of the bright spots of this thus-far disappointing 2011 Eagles season was the blowout win against the Dallas Cowboys at home.
And perhaps the best play of that entire game was in the red zone.
The Cowboys were in a blitzing formation and Vick recognized it, so he changed the play at the line of scrimmage and called a screen with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
It was a perfect play, as the aggressive blitz backfired and Maclin walked right into the end zone. Any Eagles fan watching (and non-Cowboys fan overall) would certainly attest that it was a thing of beauty.
Vick always was known as an athletic player, but has yet to make a name for himself as a cerebral quarterback who can beat you with audibles and play-calling at the line.
If Vick can take that next step and truly develop as a cerebral quarterback, he may become the most difficult NFL quarterback to stop.
It is already difficult enough to account for his athleticism and his improved passing; a cerebral Vick who could change the play and create favorable matchups for the already-potent Eagles offense could very well become an elite quarterback in this league.