How to be Optimistic about Michael Vick

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It would be hard to find a more polarizing figure in Philadelphia sports history than Michael Vick. He is either loved or despised by the Philadelphia fan base. One could make an argument for Andy Reid but with all of Vick’s off the field issues, I think he takes the cake. The Vick debate in Philadelphia rivals that of gun control, abortion and the death penalty across the United States. To be clear, I am neither for or against Vick staying in Philadelphia but as I listen to local radio station hosts and fans calling into sports radio, I hear a lot of misconceptions. For most of the fans, it is a foregone conclusion that Vick’s career is over and he is not capable of playing at a high level in any system. I hear the same generalizations made over and over about why Vick cannot be the QB here in Philadelphia. He is too small, he is injury prone, he can’t help but turn the ball over and he is a terrible decision maker. I would be wasting your time if I were to sit here and say that all of these things are not true, but I do think that many of these generalizations are over the top. To be completely honest, I am really not sure if Vick can turn his career around in this new system but I think I can make a case for some positivity.

In the following paragraphs, I will discuss some of the key arguments against Vick and introduce a different perspective on Vick’s situation in Philly. My goal here is not to convince the world that Vick will be a star, but to try to quell some of the negativity about him as the QB and build a case for hope. To do this, though, I will need your help. I would ask that you, as the reader, forget for a minute about Michael Vick the man and your personal opinions of him and focus on Michael Vick the football player. Enjoy.

Injuries
The number one argument I hear on a daily basis is that Vick cannot hold up in the NFL because of his style of play and knack for running the ball which leads to injuries. Next is that Vick would never survive in the read option offense because of the hits he would take. Looking merely at his statistics and games played over the course of his career, it would be hard to argue that point. Looking at it more closely, though, I would have to disagree. A few weeks ago, I went back and looked at all of Vick’s prior injuries with the Eagles that kept him out of games for a piece that I wrote about the QB position under Kelly. There were a total of six. Of the six injuries, five of them occurred while he was standing in the pocket like a typical pocket passer. So the notion that Vick’s reckless scrambling led to his injuries is simply not true.
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Also, in the last two years, Vick has gotten much better at getting down before he is hit. In addition, he has the ability to at least brace himself when he can see the hit coming. I actually tend to think it is much more dangerous playing in the pocket with several 300 lb men trying to take someone’s head off on every play. Another factor that tends to be left out is Andy Reid’s lack of offensive balance. Defenses blitzed Vick consistently without fear as there was no element of surprise in Reid’s offense. Even when Vick is standing in the pocket, Kelly’s offense should give Vick some extra time because the defense should be off balance with the threat of either Vick or McCoy running the ball. (More on this below) So, not only do I disagree with the notion that Vick cannot survive in the read option, I actually think he would be better off.

Decision Making
In the last two years, Vick’s decision making has led to plenty of issues. In decision making, I am not just referring to turnovers. Vick was incapable of deciphering a defense and was too slow to make decisions in the pocket. In all fairness, maybe Reid’s offense wasn’t the best offense for Michael Vick. Although, Reid’s offense evolved over the years away from the classic West Coast offense, it was still based in the West Coast system and used many of the West Coast route trees. It is no secret that the West Coast Offense is one of the most complex and difficult offenses to pick up. Below is a quote from Bill Walsh on the West Coast Offense:

“The offense is a quarterback-oriented attack based on a progression-type passing game with mostly, but not exclusively, short and intermediate routes. It is dependent on the quarterback’s ability to read coverages quickly, identify the progression of receivers and throw in rhythm so he hits the receivers in stride, enabling them to gain yards after the catch.”

Doesn’t exactly sound like a Michael Vick type of offense. I think part of his struggles were a result of him thinking too much during each play which, coincidentally, is the exact opposite of what Chip Kelly wants his players to do. Kelly likes to keep things simple for his players so they can just play. Without a doubt, Kelly’s offense will be far more complex in Philadelphia than it was at Oregon but it would be hard to argue that his belief in simplicity would change.

Without even focusing on simplicity though, the read option offense in itself is simple. The QB has one read to make. If the backside defensive end crashes down to play the run, the QB keeps it and takes it upfield. If not, the QB hands the ball off. So Vick would have one defender to read. If you watched the playoffs and the Super Bowl, you could see how teams were defending this. Instead of crashing down, the backside DE always stayed put to not allow the QB to run. Unfortunately for the defense, though, this is exactly what the offense wants. They then just hand the ball to the RB while the backside DE just completely took himself out of the play. The following pictures taken from NFL Game Rewind show what the read option offense did to the Raven’s defense during the Super Bowl:
6 in box
In this picture, the Ravens line up with six men in the box (a scenario in which Kelly would almost always run). The 49ers, meanwhile have eight players in the box not including Kaepernick.
Backside End
You can see as the play develops that the backside DE (Upshaw) has taken himself completely out of the play to stop Kaepernick from taking off down the right sideline. Now the 49ers outnumber the Ravens eight to five at the point of attack. Kaepernick read Upshaw on this play and because Upshaw stayed home, he simply handed it off to Gore for five yards. This is exactly what the coaches want. If Vick can just make this one read correctly, he can be successful in the read option.
8 in box
On the very next play, you can see that the Ravens now put eight men in the box to even out the numbers at the point of attack. How do the 49ers respond?
Wide Open
They chuck it down the field off of a play action fake. They took advantage of the defense playing the run which left Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker wide open down the field. This is an example of how this offense can open things up for the QB. I recognize that this is only one play but this is indicative of the constant cat and mouse game that the read option offense creates. Vick still has the arm to make these throws and with the threat of the run, he should have more room for error as he will get more one on one matchups and find bigger holes in the zone defense. Again, I am not saying Vick will be perfect, only that this offense should help mask some of his deficiencies.

The Chip Kelly Factor
After being cut from the New York Jets in the 2010 training camp, Danny Woodhead was picked up by Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Belichick found a way to exploit his strengths and turn him into a weapon for the Patriots offense. Bill Belichick and Chip Kelly are very similar in this way. As I mentioned in another one of my pieces a few weeks ago about what Chip Kelly can bring to Philadelphia, one of Kelly’s greatest strengths is his ability to find and exploit his player’s strengths. He can also find ways to mask or work around a players weaknesses. He can limit Vick’s decision tree to cut down on turnovers, he can roll him out on misdirections to help him see over the line and he can create mismatches in the defense for him to take advantage of in the passing game. While I cannot pull out any statistics or game film to illustrate this, I am confident that Kelly will put Vick in the best possible position to succeed.

The purpose of this post was not for me to make a case for Michael Vick to play in the 2013 Pro Bowl. I am not even advocating for him to be the starter. My goal was just to bring a positive perspective to what has generally been a negative reaction by the Philadelphia fan base. While Vick may not be the fresh start the fan base was looking for, I think there is at least some reason for optimism. What do you think?

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