Stats say stick with Vick in 2012

Erratic play has many concerned, but QB should rebound

Originally Published: September 26, 2012
By Peter Keating | ESPN Insider
Michael VickMike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesThere are better days ahead for Michael Vick.

I have a question for those of you who are down on Michael Vick. But first, I'd like to detail a few keys to the Eagles' hideous performance on Sunday afternoon, and to Vick's recent level of play.

On Philly's very first play from scrimmage last weekend, Arizona DE Calais Campbell blew by LT Demetress Bell, who was subbing for the injured Jason Peters, forcing Vick to scramble instead of throwing deep to a wide-open DeSean Jackson, who would probably have scored if Vick had been able to get him the ball.

Bell and C Dallas Reynolds -- in for the also-hurt Jason Kelce -- allowed the Cardinals to pressure Vick all day, taking away half the Eagles' running game and all of their deep patterns. Vick was hurried 10 times from the left side, out of 13 times overall, according to Pro Football Focus. Eagles RB LeSean McCoy rushed just once to the left, compared to 12 times up the middle or to the right. And Vick attempted only two more bombs, both to Jackson -- and Jackson spent the tail end of one of them complaining about pass interference instead of trying to grab the ball.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Maclin was also hurt, and nobody who played picked up the slack by getting open. Other than Damaris Johnson, Vick didn't target any receiver more than three times in a game in which he had 37 passing attempts.

And as Captain Kirk would have said, my God, McCoy … With just a few seconds left in the first half and the Eagles trailing 17-0, Philadelphia had a third-and-goal at the Arizona 1-yard line. The Cardinals sent six pass-rushers, but McCoy somehow picked up James Sanders, who was already covered, instead of Kerry Rhodes, who got a straight shot at Vick, crushed him and forced him to fumble. Sanders scooped up the ball and raced 93 yards the other way, essentially ending the game.

Overall, Vick completed fewer than half his attempts for just 5.9 yards per attempt (YPA), didn't throw a touchdown, took five sacks and lost two fumbles on Sunday. There's no way to call that a good game, and his Total QBR was a miserable 5.4, ranking 30th in the league. Yet Vick's struggles against Arizona, and his entire 2012 season so far, are a testament to just how intertwined quarterback and offensive line -- and backfield -- play truly are.

Watching the Eagles, it's easy to get frustrated when Vick repeatedly has third-down passes batted away, or runs into hits. But if your line doesn't let you run or throw, really, what's left for a guy to do? He can take sacks, as when Reynolds let NT David Carter blow by him on one play and then just didn't cover LB Daryl Washington on another, each time allowing the Cardinals to slam Vick. And he can take penalties, like the intentional grounding called on Vick in the fourth quarter when Campbell beat Bell yet again.

And so we have arrived at a fascinating but odd juncture where Vick is now a very well-known quantity to advanced metrics, but one whose actual performance is totally at odds with his public persona. To most Eagles fans, Vick's 2010 season was MVP-worthy: 21 passing touchdowns, nine more TDs on a league-leading 6.8 yards per rushing attempt, just six interceptions, a division title. But then he seemed to backtrack severely in 2011: 14 INTs, including four in the red zone, more injuries, no playoffs. And this year, he seems to have picked up where the most dubious parts of last year left off, with an NFL-worst six picks and five fumbles in the first three weeks. Traditional stats agree: Vick's passer rating has declined from 100.2 to 84.9 to 66.2 in each of the past three seasons.

Peer deeper into the numbers, however, and you'll see that Vick actually played just about as well in 2011 as he did in 2010. And that he's likely to bounce back strongly in a number of key areas this season. And those areas where he isn't likely to rebound, it's because the Eagles have other players who they should be worried about far more than Vick.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.